How Long, O Lord?

Though we often wish He would move sooner, God is always right on time. Everything in God’s plan has a proper time; the gap between the present and that proper time tests and cultivates our faith. When we are in the middle of intense suffering or pain, time is of the essence. We want relief. We want an escape. We want out. For centuries, people and prophets alike have sighed, “How long, O Lord?” (Ps 6:3; 13:1, Hab. 1:2).

Just after promising we will reap whatever we sow, Paul says, “We must not get tired of doing good, for we will reap at the proper time if we don’t give up.” (Galatians 6:9). God knows the right time. It’s our job to trust Him. When the time does come the harvest will correspond to the work invested: “Remember this: the person who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the person who sows generously will also reap generously” (2 Cor. 9:6). God says He will repay the wicked “in due time” (Deut. 32:35), just has He will lift up the humble “in due time” (1 Peter 5:6).

After centuries of His people’s prayers for deliverance, God sent His Son into the world “when the completion of time came” (Gal. 4:4). Even demons recognize that their freedom to inflict suffering on people will expire and they will be severely judged at “the appointed time” (Matt. 8:29). On various occasions people wanted to kill Jesus, but they didn’t because “His time had not yet come” (John 7:30; 8:20). Likewise, God knows the proper time for Christ’s triumphant return. God intends to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under Christ. That plan will be according to God’s good pleasure that “He planned for Him in the fullness of time” (Eph. 1:10). Though we often wish He would move sooner, God is always right on time.

God doesn’t delay justice or relief from suffering for as long as we often imagine. Some rewards of goodness and punishments of evil come in this life. And though ultimate rewards and punishments await the final judgment, considerable justice, but reward and retribution, gets dispensed upon death, when God’s redeemed children immediately experience the joy of His presence and the unrepentant suffer the first justice of Hell (Luke 16:19-31).  This means that the maximum duration of injustice experienced by any person cannot exceed his life span.

What we consider too long is not too long by God’s standards. 2 Peter 3:9 explains why God postpones His judgment upon sin, allowing evil and suffering to continue before He brings to an end this cursed world: “The Lord does not delay His promise, as some understand delay, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance.” Isn’t it better that we willingly endure the suffering of further delay so that others may obtain the mercy God extended to us?  Immediately before telling us that God patiently gives us time to repent, Peter says, “friends, don’t let this one thing escape you: with the Lord one day is like 1,000 years, and 1,000 years like one day” (2 Peter 3:8). Currently, the average U.S. life expectancy of 78.06 years. If a thousand years were a day, the average life span would convert to one hour and fifty-two minutes. Think how brief our lives—even all of human history—will seem when we look back at them a million years from now in eternity.  One day we’ll know the answer to the age-old question, “How long, O Lord?” Only long enough to accomplish the greatest eternal good.

The length of time in which our prayers seem to go unanswered tests and cultivates our trust in God. Sometimes, after all hope seems lost, a breakthrough from suffering comes and we are relieved from our pain. Other times, those who have prayed sometimes don’t live to see their prayers answered. God may use even death of faithful saints to accomplish His purposes. The author of Hebrews tells us that many of the Godly men and women mentioned in the “Hall of Faith” in chapter 11, “died in faith without having received the promises.” They lived and died with unanswered prayers and under intense suffering, “but they saw them from a distance,” by faith, “greeted them, and confessed that they were foreigners and temporary residents on the earth” (Hebrews 11:13).

The ultimate harvest comes only in eternity when the invisible becomes visible. The contrast between temporary suffering and eternal goodness will be clear when we see Jesus face to face. Paul summed it up in Romans 8:12, “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is going to be revealed to us.”

How long? In God’s time, He will make everything right. And that’s all right with me.

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