Culture conditions us for immediate results. The phrase “patience is a virtue” seems lost to us and is replaced with, “we want it right now.” Everything seems to be shifting towards instant gratification.
Amazon now working on providing same-day delivery ... streaming services dropping an entire season’s worth of a show all at once ... finding a date with a simple swipe to the right: waiting for something is so yesterday. If you think you’re immune to this, let me know how calm and relaxed you are when the WiFi takes a little longer than you’re accustomed to.
The desire for instant gratification — the quick-fix — seeps into our faith as well. Whether we care to admit or not, we often desire a God that is like Superman who comes to our rescue faster than a speeding bullet. But that’s not how life works nor is it how God works, which often becomes a stumbling block.
So many people I’ve known walked away from God because God “wasn’t there.” Some were even surprised that life got difficult at all after putting trust in Christ, “I thought life was supposed to be easier…”
I think we prefer God to be a magician, that way all the responsibility and pressure is on God to perform (or not) and we simply get to sit back and oooh and ahhh as magic is done to us; a quick fix to complex problems. Quick fixes never really solve anything. It either ignores the real source of the issue or it just maintains what needs to be fixed. So we end up trying to change our situation/environment/surroundings rather than change ourselves.
That’s not what Jesus had in mind. That’s not how transformation takes place. Jesus asks us to participate; to cooperate; to walk through the pain and suffering with the promise that Jesus is always with us. That’s why our growth and faith is a process, because it requires transformation.
The difficult part is that a lot of growth and transformation emerge from pain and suffering. Not only that — it takes too long. What’s one to do when Christ’s promise of deliverance is taking forever?
There’s a passage in Genesis where God says to Abram, “Don’t be afraid, Abram. I am your protector. Your reward will be great” (Genesis 15:1). God was referring to God’s promise about a son being born to Abram and Sarai.
Except that promise was made about ten years ago.
God told Abram that Sarai — who was barren — was going to have a son. Of course, they were thrilled at the news. A day passed. No pregnancy. A week. Nothing. Weeks turned into months. Nothing, still. Months turned into years. Nope. Years turned into a decade.
Where was that promise?
What was taking so long?
So Abram responded in the following verse (Genesis 15:2): "Lord God, what can you possibly give me, since I still have no children? The head of my household is Eliezer, a man from Damascus. Since you haven’t given me any children, the head of my household will be my heir.”
Can you hear the disappointment — maybe even bitterness — in Abram’s words? He mentioned twice he still didn't have any children. He seemed tired of waiting and he was going to give his inheritance to the head of his household.
Can you relate to Abram’s disappointment?
God is quick to answer. God reassures Abram of the promise: that his offsprings will be as numerous as the stars in the sky Then God makes an odd request:
He said, “Bring me a three-year-old female calf, a three-year-old female goat, a three-year-old ram, a dove, and a young pigeon.” He took all of these animals, split them in half, and laid the halves facing each other, but he didn’t split the birds. When vultures swooped down on the carcasses, Abram waved them off. After the sun set, Abram slept deeply. A terrifying and deep darkness settled over him (Genesis 15:9-12).
While this act may seem unfamiliar to us, it was a common practice of oath making between kings in Abram’s day. When kings made covenants; promises; treaties with one another, the king with greater power/influence/kingdom typically made the lesser king cut the animal in half and walk between the halves of said split animal. It was a way of saying, "if you don’t keep the end of your bargain — if you don’t keep your promise — your fate will be like the animal that was split in half."
After the sun set and darkness deepened, a smoking vessel with a fiery flame passed between the split-open animals. That day the Lord cut a covenant with Abram (Genesis 15:17-18).
God makes a promise to Abram. Then it is God who passes through the split-open animals. God assumed the part that was reserved for the lesser in power and stature and walked through the animal halves to show Abram that God intends to keep God’s promise.
This is a long about way (I am a preacher, after all) to simply say that God’s promise of “I am with you always” still remains absolutely true. You may be in a season where those words feel like an empty promise. You may be in the midst of one of your most difficult journeys and all you hear is silence from God — and sometimes that silence is so loud it can be deafening.
You want the magician-like God to appear and quickly end all the suffering and pain you’re going through. But we can’t rush through the pain. We can’t skip over the grief and/or despair. The only way to heal is to walk through it.
And we walk through it knowing — trusting — that even though we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, we have nothing to fear for God is with us. Because even the darkest journeys are surrounded by wondrous things
Richard Rohr tells us that Jesus isn’t loyal to a group or to Americans (or any other country for that matter); he has no loyalty to affiliations or political parties. But that Christ hides out with the crucified ones. More than any group, Jesus is always loyal to human suffering.
Friend, if I may, Christ is with you. Always has been, always will be. Sometimes, that may feel like the furthest thing from the truth. But we’ve also been given the gift of community to remind us that we are not alone. There are people who will have faith on our behalf when we can’t seem to muster faith; friends who will pray for us; who will walk with us, eat with us, talk with us. And when people forget you, God will not.
Know that God is mindful of you. Every breath that we take is a reminder that God is maintaining and sustaining us.
Joseph Yoo is a West Coaster at heart contently living in Houston, Texas with his wife and son. He serves at Mosaic Church in Houston. Find more of his writing at josephyoo.com.
[Posted on August 19, 2019]