Of discontinuity and waiting

Friday, October 27, 2017
Praying and working for God’s will to be done on earth . . . today

Sitting beside a hospital bed. Waiting.

The morning busyness of the ward rounds, therapists, treatments, washing and cleaning subsided into a slower afternoon of napping, an occasional visitor—and waiting. Some waited for a measure of recovery, some with uncertainty, others inevitability.

Dad marked his 75th birthday with this unplanned but urgent hospital visit, another chapter in his struggle with poor health, a weakened heart—and getting older.

As someone who often thinks, writes and talks about our Christian calling to do good in the world, this place challenges me. We can care for the poor, speak out against injustice, work for a fairer world, seek peace rather than violence, even campaign for better health care and teach more healthful living, but as good and necessary as these things are, they seemingly end here or somewhere like it.

Despite the difference these God-ordained good works can make, there are some things all our “doing justice and loving mercy” (see Micah 6:8) don’t prevent and can’t undo. In the ways we sometimes talk about this calling, there’s a risk of thinking that, if only we worked harder and more faithfully, by our many smaller acts of “enacting the kingdom” and in harmony with the kingdom of God, we might somehow bring it to its ultimate fulfilment. But too many hospital rooms remind us even our best work can’t undo the ravages of sin and death.

When we believe grief, injustice and suffering will be replaced by God’s fulfilled kingdom, we wait with actions that seek to undo these realties here and now, with whatever time, energy and resources are given to us.Nathan Brown, Book Editor, Signs Publishing

While we yet pray, as Jesus taught His disciples, “May your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10, NLT)—and we work to live that out in practical ways in our lives and in our communities—this prayer and this goal is inspired, illuminated and fired by the Bible’s promise of a radical and ultimate discontinuity: “It will happen in a moment, in the blink of an eye, when the last trumpet is blown. . . . For our dying bodies must be transformed into bodies that will never die; our mortal bodies must be transformed into immortal bodies” (1 Corinthians 15:52, 53, NLT).

This is not an excuse for inactivity; rather it gives purpose, assurance and hope to our activity, as well as perspective. Neither we nor our actions are expected to inaugurate or complete the kingdom of God. But we’re called to live and act in the light of the ultimate purpose and plan of God in relation to the suffering, tragedy and injustice of our world: “He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever” (Revelation 21:4, NLT). As it will be with our bodies, so it will be with our human condition. This is a dramatic discontinuity from the realities of a hospital room—and from so many of the tragedies, injustices and sorrows of our world.

This is the promise that transforms our lives—and, through us, our communities and our world—in anticipation of this ultimate transformation. This is the realisation that ensures our humility as we undertake the great and small tasks of living as agents of the kingdom of God. This is the conclusion to Jesus’ sermon on His return and the end of the age. In Matthew 25, we’re urged to wait with patience and spiritual endurance (see verses 1-13), with stewardship and endeavour given the resources we have (verses 14-30), and with compassion and service particularly to the “least of these” (verses 31-46).

When we believe grief, injustice and suffering will be replaced by God’s fulfilled kingdom, we wait with actions that seek to undo these realties here and now, with whatever time, energy and resources are given to us. And while we share this hope by word, we demonstrate and enact this hope by action. As Paul concluded his grand reflection of the reality, significance and hope of resurrection, “So, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and immovable. Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless” (1 Corinthians 15:58, NLT).

Sitting beside a hospital bed. Waiting.

Waiting for God to act—but also working for justice, compassion and healing, as He has urged. Waiting for the great discontinuity the Bible promises—but also acting now in its light and hope. Waiting for God’s kingdom to come fully—but praying and working for His will to be done on earth today.

Nathan Brown wrote this article in 2016. Adventist World published it in July of that year. Nathan’s father died a week ago Thursday (October 19). Family and friends gathered this past Wednesday in Toowoomba, Queensland, to remember Martin Brown and his contribution to life and to work as a Seventh-day Adventist minister. One of the themes of the service: hope.

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Author

Nathan Brown

Nathan is Book Editor at Signs Publishing. He is a former magazine editor, a published writer and an author or editor of a dozen books. He is also a co-convener of Manifest, a community exploring, encouraging and celebrating faithful creativity.