Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.
1 Thessalonians 5.23-24
I am a long admirer of W. H. Auden. Auden once wrote a poem for which he received the Pulitzer Prize. I doubt that you have read it. It is, as these things go, a tedious slow cultural commentary. You may, however, recognize the title: “The Age of Anxiety”.
In my daydreams I have imagined writing a follow up poem diagnosing our own culture. And in a moment of poignant clarity, I had a title; “The Age of Apathy”. It has that alliterative resonance to both remind of Auden’s piece and move beyond it. I haven’t written a word since. The irony is nearly killing me.
Maybe one day I’ll get on it. But the idea of an age of apathy kept coming back to me. I began to wonder if the promise of instant whatever-you-want-ness dries out our patience and endurance until we give up before we’ve begun. Are you hungry? You can have a meal in less than 10min. Are you in a debate over how many movies Chris Pratt has starred in? Open your phone, click on your computer, ask Siri. You can have that and more instantly. Are you lonely, feeling unappreciated, or ashamed? Log on to facebook or instagram and have people celebrate your wit or looks. Even better, find those who don’t have half your wit or looks, and bang! Instant smug. Bored? 14 seconds for the next Netflix show to load or a fingerprint can unlock a world of games, distractions and amusements.
But patience and endurance seem difficult, tedious, and totally at odds with quick fixes, easy growth, and everything now. It’s hard work. Yet as I read the scriptures, I find that patience and endurance are fundamental Christian virtues. Why? Because they are fundamental to God’s character. Remember how slowly and gently God dealt with Israel in the Old Testament? How often were God’s people reminded that God is slow to anger, abounding in loving kindness, and long suffering? And what is Christ’s incarnation, but the deepest commitment to redeem by taking the long way around? He inaugurated the Kingdom of God, not through power, but through the slow patient process of death and resurrection. Recall that the disciples just didn’t have the time, before or after the resurrection, for this slow approach. They wanted the Kingdom in all its glory now, sooner, immediately. But in Acts 1 Christ simply says, I’m going to give you power and you will be my witnesses to the change. And what was the power? The breath of God - the Holy Spirit - that elusive person of the Trinity, going where it is blown, mysterious as the wind. In other words - Christ says, I will spread my Kingdom by breaking down strongholds and moving mountains through my Spirit alive and at work in you. Now, how long does it take to blow down a mountain? That’s a slow approach.
I find it hard to be patient over a world full of mountains of sin and brokenness that seem unchanged. I find is difficult to endure others lack of change and repeated and then repeated sin. And I find it crushing to endure my own battle against sin, to resist temptation, to be patient as I alternate between stumbling on top of Christ and being strong upon Him. I don’t want to be thrown into the slow cooker of the soul. I want to be placed into a microwave. Give me one complete transformation, a mountaintop on which to stay, a power that never lets up. Let the battle to be completely sanctified be over now, sooner, immediately.
I suppose it could be if God had wanted to turn us into holy automatons. Robots perfectly obeying the law. But He wants us to choose and rejoice in holiness because He is holy. He wants sons and daughters who see sin as vile because it is a comically weak imitation of the delight of being in Him. He wants us to have hearts of flesh, hearts that desire Him, and it is slow change. It requires patience and endurance, getting back up and pushing on in hope, forgiving and walking forward in faith.
So the writer of Hebrews in chapter 12 reminds us what Christ has won for us. Before Christ, the closest we could get to God was standing in fear before Mt. Zion, but Christ brings us into the city of the Living God. No longer is God shrouded in darkness at a distance, but He can be known, because He was patient to reveal Himself and because Christ endured the horrors of the cross. Patiently establishing a Kingdom that cannot be shaken. So lift up your drooping head and strengthen your weak knees. Do not grow weary or fainthearted.
Christ who has brought you to know the Living God will not fail in making you holy. He has called you into life with Him. He is faithful. He is patient. He has endured. You too be patient. You too endure. For He will surely do it.