The God Who Waits
by Pastor George Van Alstine
In seminary we were taught that, in contrast to the ways God is portrayed in many other religions, the God of the Bible is THE GOD WHO ACTS! He is not transcendent and aloof from the concerns of humans, nor does he need to be prompted from his passivity through gifts of appeasement. He has an agenda for the world and its inhabitants, and he is aggressively pursuing his goals. He speaks everything into existence in creation, and his hand is on its operation. He decides to call out a special people, and he leads them from slavery to occupy their own land. He brings judgment upon those who disobey his rules or oppress his people. He sends his Son into the world to confront the evil that threatens to undermine his purposes. He promises to culminate this chapter of history with a final decisive act of vindication and victory.
Well then, why is he so often THE GOD WHO WAITS? Why is “How long, O Lord?” such a major theme of the psalms of his people? Why is it that we ourselves feel that many of our prayers fall on deaf ears?
Part of the answer lies in God’s determination to respect the personal will of the humans he is dealing with. He would rather coax and persuade us than to force himself on us, even if it takes a little longer. Paul put it this way in his letter to the Romans:
Do you despise the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience?
Do you not realize that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? (Romans 2:4)
However, another reason is suggested by Leo Tolstoy’s short story “God Sees the Truth, But Waits.” The title sets the stage for this tragic tale:
Ivan Dmitrich Aksionov, a merchant living in a town in Russia, is falsely accused of murder. He is found guilty and is sent to hopeless exile in Siberia. He spends the next twenty-six years in Siberia, and, resigned to his fate, he dedicates his life to God. He becomes a mediator of sorts in the prison, and he is well respected by the other prisoners, as well as the guards
One day a new prisoner, Makar Semyonich, is transferred into the prison. After overhearing several conversations, Aksionov is convinced that this is the man who committed the murder for which he was framed. Eventually Aksionov confronts Semyonich, but he denies committing the murder.
One day the guards notice that someone has been scattering dirt around the grounds, and they search the prison and find a tunnel. Aksionov had found out earlier that it was Makar Semyonich that was digging the hole, but after being questioned by the police, Aksionov declares that it is not his place to speak about the matter. Semyonich approaches Aksionov later that day in a terrible state of guilt, and he eventually admits to Aksionov that it was he who committed the murder.
Going against his instinct for vengeance, Aksionov forgives Semyonich. He feels as if a terrible weight has been lifted. Semyonich confesses to the authorities, and the process for Aksionov to be cleared is begun. Unfortunately, Aksionov dies before he can reach home, but he dies in peace. (adapted from Wikipedia)
The last words of the actual story are these:
“When Aksionov heard him sobbing, he too began to weep.
‘God will forgive you!’ he said. ‘Maybe I am a hundred times worse than you.’ And at these words his heart suddenly grew light and the longing for home left him. He no longer had any desire to leave the prison, but only hoped for his last hour to come.
In spite of what Aksionov had said, Semyonich confessed his guilt. But when the order for his release came, Aksionov was already dead.”
Some people who read this story become very angry because the injustice seems still unresolved. Aksionov has lost the best years of his life, and what is his reward? He dies. But this response overlooks his state just before his death: his heart is light, and he no longer longs for earthly attachments. Because he has achieved total humility (“Maybe I am a hundred times worse than you.”) and even has reached the point of trying to relieve his enemy’s suffering, he is ready for eternal life with God.
What was God waiting for? This final moment in the transformation of one man’s character in the image of Christ. It was worth the wait.