When God Seems Late or Absent

Jesus seemed to show up late.

When the Israelites were conquered and taken out of their land, Jeremiah prophesied that their exile would last 70 years. Various Bible writers tried to account for these 70 years in different ways, but Daniel’s revelation was the most surprising—for when he asked God what was taking so long, the angel Gabriel appeared to him and said it would take something more like 490 years. After that, they would experience an end of sin and the start of everlasting righteousness, which we find in Jesus. Angels are very rarely named in the Bible, so it’s of special interest when Gabriel reappears again all over the Christmas story, further communicating that his message to Daniel would come to fruition in this newborn baby.

In the light of such prophetic delay, it’s not all that shocking that when Jesus said he’d return in a generation (about 70 years), it actually took a little longer (some 2,000 years and counting). This, of course, has always unnerved people—even the early church! When they asked Peter what was taking so long, Peter answered, “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” In other words: “God wants more to be saved.” And so goes the same answer throughout Revelation, where humans and angels declare the gospel all the way to the bitter end until it seems there’s no one left on earth who will respond to it.

Year two of the pandemic comes with a lot of brokenness and pain. How many have asked during this crisis, “God where are you?” It seems nearly everyone. But that question isn’t new with us. Throughout the Bible, people asked the same question when they encountered intentionally dry seasons with God—like those in the time of Samuel, when “the word of the Lord was rare in those days.”

That’s what experiences of God have felt like for many during the pandemic: rare. But I think part of what God’s doing in his quietness, is chiseling out a new remnant of the church. Who will continue to be faithful to him, even in the midst of all this collective pain?—even in the midst of long-suffering and waiting? “It will be over in a few months,” we were told. “It’ll be over once we have medical advantages over this sickness,” we were told. Everyday a new message comes out proclaiming something different and many feel unrested from it.

But Christmas is a time where we enter into the patience of God. Recognizing that even when it feels like 490 years, God is brewing salvation. That even when it feels like 2,000 years, God is brewing resurrection. That even when it feels like 2 long pandemic years, God is busy bringing about incredible stories through his remnant. That even when it feels like God is absent, the gospel continues to be proclaimed until there’s no one left who will listen.

God is love. And nothing says that louder than the God of the universe descending low to put on human skin, and being born in a feeding trough as a political refugee. We do not have a savior who watches us endure long-suffering from afar, but one who endures long-suffering with us nearby.

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