Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Our glacial God

As I was thinking about this Advent season, I thought of God's preparation to save His people. And a particular image stuck in my head--an image I have never before associated with God. That image is this:

Glaciers are a huge part of our world--about 10% of our surface area--and I have been fortunate enough to climb on one in Alaska and experience their strange power. A glacier is a powerful wall of ice which flows like a river...only far, far too slowly for us to notice its movement. Humans and civilizations rise and fall, never noticing the slow, steady motion of the glacier. Centimeter by centimeter, century by century, it advances and acts our its will: leveling mountains, digging deep sinkholes, changing the weather of the entire world. Glaciers are immensely powerful and influential in our world, yet often forgotten because--compared to our brief lifetimes--their actions are so SLOW.

In our results-driven, instant-gratification culture, we Christians often forget that our concept of time is much, much different than God's. As the Scripture says, a thousand years to us is but a day to Him, and the timelines that He chooses to act over seem painstakingly slow to us at times--so slow that we never notice Him working at all. We pray for healing every day for a month and then are disappointed that we received no notable answer...yet God's speed of answering is simply often different than we would like.

Consider our salvation, which was made possible by the Incarnation which we celebrate this Advent season. Untold ages ago, in a Garden we can no longer even identify, man rebelled against God and our Fall happened. We became sinful, rebellious beings. And God decided that He would fix the situation.

How did He do that?

As completely as a glacier levels a mountain range--and as slowly.

God would one day take human form as a babe to save us from ourselves. But He did not do so immediately. Indeed, the path from Fall to Incarnation covers perhaps hundreds of thousands of years. His solution was complete, but by no means quick!

Primitive peoples of pre-history spread throughout all the world, and differing languages developed over centuries and centuries. Agriculture and civilization began. The ancient Egyptians began to build pyramids, while the nomadic tribes of the Semites--including one wealthy man named Abraham--began to spread to the west. Centuries and millennia tick by, and still God seems to do nothing to rectify our situation: indeed, at this point He has not even given any rules for how to worship Him! Eventually Abraham's line leads to Joseph. Joseph rises to power in Egypt, but not long after, the Semites were enslaved. Another half a millennia passes, and Moses leads the Jews out of Egypt and starts the Jewish religion. Then FIFTEEN more centuries of history tick by. Think about it: man rebels against God, and God enacts a plan which is so incredibly slow that massive nations rise and fall, and entire people-groups disappear. Great civilizations like ancient Greece barely even register a blip on the map compared to the slow advance of His master plan.

Like a glacier, God's plan slowly, inch by inch, centimeter by centimeter, advances through the ages. Hundreds of Egyptians pharaohs live and die. Babylon rises and falls. Persia rises and falls. Greece rises and falls.

And still the plan inches along.

Up comes the Roman Republic, and the Republic too falls, being replaced with a new Empire.

And still God inches along.

Until one day, around 5-7 BC, God decides to take another step. At least ten thousand and perhaps a hundred and fifty thousand years have passed since Adam...and finally God's plan gets underway in a noticable way.

But even then, when He decides to end our sinful state, He does so slowly.

He does not come down and solve the problem in a moment, does He? No, instead He solves it in a painfully slow process: the God-Out-Of-Time becomes a baby in a manger, born to an unwed teenager with no education in the backwoods of an Empire.

And slowly, in the normal passage of time, this baby has to grow up.

The Savior of the World nurses. And still God's plan delays.

The Savior of the World teethes. And still God's plan delays.

The Savior of the World toddles. And still God's plan delays.

The Savior of the World scrapes His knee and cries. And still God's plan delays.

The Savior of the World is taught to hold a pencil and form letters. And still God's plan delays.

The Savior of the World learns Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. And still God's plan delays.

The Savior of the World may have had acne as a teenager. And still God's plan delays.

The Savior of the World learned to work with His hands, as a carpenter in a tiny village. And still God's plan delays.

The Savior of the World grew up minute by minute, no faster than you or I. In the most important plan in the history of the world, God chose yet again to work slowly, glacially. Moment by moment, in the most intimate way possible, He experienced everything of human life.

For millennia He worked on His plan, and as we enter this Advent season it is important for us to reflect on the slowness of God. His timing is not our timing; His ways are not our ways.

When you become impatient with God, remember that He often advances bit-by-bit, powerfully but patiently. Glacially.

If that frustrates you, just remember this truth: while a glacier may move painfully slowly, it does move--and its power can level any mountain in its path.

1 comment:

  1. This reminds me of how Misreading Scripture (great book, by the way!) talked about how the eastern (Japan VERY MUCH excluded!) conception of time differs from the western sense (i.e., that time is a limited resource.) Posts like this are a good reminder to slow down and give God room to speak - there's so much pressure on our lives to do this and that, that it's easy to forget the value of slowing down and learning to appreciate that God isn't in as much of a rush as we are. I think there's a lot to be learned from that.