By Ron Rolheiser, OMI
God is never in a hurry, and patience is probably our greatest faith struggle
There’s an adage that says that an atheist is simply someone who
cannot grasp metaphor. Thomas Halik, the Czech writer, would suggest
rather that an atheist is someone who cannot be patient enough with God.
There is a lot of truth in that. Patience with God is perhaps our greatest
faith struggle. God, it would seem, is never in a hurry and because of
that we live with an impatience that can test the strongest faith and
the stoutest heart.
Life, as we can all attest to, is not without its bitter
frustrations and crushing heartaches. We all live with a lot of pain
and unresolved tensions. Who among us doesn’t experience regularly the pain of
sickness, various kinds of personal and professional failure, some kind
of humiliation, the inadequacy of self-expression, the soul-searing losses
of loved ones, every kind of frustrated longing and the nagging pain
of life’s inadequacy? In this life, there’s no such a thing
as a clear-cut, pure joy; rather, everything comes with shadow. We do
in fact live inside a certain valley of tears.
We are built for happiness, but pure happiness never quite
finds us. Neither, it would seem, does justice. Jesus promised that the
meek would inherit the earth, but mostly it doesn’t seem that way. The arrogant
among us often believe that. There’s an infamous Ziggy cartoon
that shows him praying to God in these words: I just want to let you
know that the meek are still getting clobbered down here! Often that
appears to be the case. So where is God? Where is the truth in Jesus’ promise
about the meek inheriting the earth? In the face of long-standing global
injustice we either live in a long-suffering patience with God or we
come to believe that neither God’s promises nor God’s existence
When Jesus was dying on the cross, some onlookers were taunting him and
challenging his message with the words: If you are the Son of God, let
him rescue you! In essence: If God is real and your message is true,
prove it right now! And God let Jesus die!
The same held true for Jesus himself in the face of the
death of Lazarus. In essence, he was being challenged: If you possess
in this world and you love this man, why don’t you save him for
dying? Jesus let Lazarus die! And the first community of disciples, immediately
after the ascension, painfully struggled with the same question: Jesus
is God and God loves us — so why does God let us die?
Each of us asks that question in our own way because what
we want is a God who rescues us, who intervenes actively for justice
and goodness in this world, who acts visibly now in this life and who
let us get sick and die. None of us want a God who asks us to live in
a lifelong patience, predicated on the promise that, in the end, whenever
that will be, love and justice will prevail, all tears will be dried
and all will finally be well. We want life, love, justice and consummation
now, not in some distant future and only after a lifetime of heartache.
God, as an old Jewish axiom puts it, is never in a hurry!
And so we live with a lot of expressed and unexpressed
impatience with God. Atheists, it would seem, at a certain point just
give up on playing the game and, in essence, say the words: I’ve seen enough; I’ve
waited enough; and it’s not enough! I will no longer wait for God!
But if atheism is just another way of saying I will no longer wait for
God then the opposite is also true: Faith is just another way of saying:
I will wait for God. If atheism is impatience, faith is patience.
The Italian spiritual writer Carlo Carretto, after spending more than
20 years in solitude as a monk in the Sahara Desert, was asked what single
thing he felt that he heard God most say to him inside of the long, deep
silence. What, he was asked, do you hear God saying to the world? His
answer: God is asking us to wait, to be patient!
Why the need for such great patience? Does God want to test us? Does God want to see if we indeed have a faith that is worthy of a great reward? No. God has no need to play such a game, and neither do we.
not that God wants to test our patience. The need for patience arises
out of the rhythms innate within life itself and within love itself.
They need to unfold, as do flowers and pregnancies, according to their
own innate rhythms and within their own good time. They cannot be rushed,
no matter how great our impatience or how great our discomfort.
And neither can God be rushed because it is God’s timetable that protects us from perpetually stunting life and love by drawing them through the birth canal prematurely.
Rolheiser, theologian, teacher and award-winning author, is president of the Oblate School of Theology in San Antonio, TX. He can be contacted through his website: www.ronrolheiser.com