December 4, 2011

Not Wanting Any To Perish

Passage: 2 Peter 3:9

But do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day. The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance.

What time is it?  When we ask this question sometimes we want to know the time of day (i.e., 10:05 A.M.).  Sometimes we are asking about an event—is it dinner time, church time, time for school or work.  No doubt you have people in your life whose handling of time varies widely.  Children know the differences in their parent’s handling of time; that the meaning of “we’re leaving in ten minutes” can vary significantly according to the parent speaking.

We have different standards with respect to our time references.  If you have a meeting with your boss at work at 9:15 A.M. there is a more exacting precision understood than when we invite a friend for dinner to came, say, at 6:30 P.M.  Cultures and people handle time so distinctly that we name time characterized by their time habits; people I know from Caribbean islands speak of “island time”.  You know people who have their own time, so to speak (i.e. (name) time).

On the night before Jesus gave up his life for us he said to his disciples: “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.”  The witness of the Apostles is that this coming again coincides with what we call the final consummation when God will with finality put all things to right.  This purging of evil from the created order is spoken of with the image of fire consuming and burning it away and the new heavens and new earth emerging.  As the second letter of Peter puts it; “the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set ablaze and dissolved, and the elements will melt with fire ... we wait for new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness is at home.”

It was over two thousand years ago that Jesus made this promise to come again.  Tell me, what do you think of God’s handling of time?  This is to ask you about what you think God’s handling of time reveals about God’s character.  This was one of the problems that the second letter of Peter addresses.  Some scholars think this letter is written by a disciple of Peter’s around 75 A.D.; the point is that within 40 years of Jesus making this promise some were already casting aspersions on the character of God because of how they perceived God was handling time—he hasn’t come back yet!

The letter notes that some were “scoffing and indulging their own lusts and saying, “Where is the promise of his coming?””  This was tantamount to calling God impotent or incompetent; he’s not really going to hold anyone accountable, the scoffer implies.  “Look I do things contrary to his commands and nothing happens to me”; God’s got no teeth—his bark is worse than his bite.

Others said he was slow concerning his promises.  This is to question the goodness of God.  There was evil in the world then as there is now; bad things happened to people trying to do the right thing in the first century as it does today.  Some people today think that this means God does not exist—this is a question that emerges from atheistic philosophers of the Enlightenment that begins in the 18th century.  The fundamental question regarding evil of people before this time wasn’t about God existence; their question was “how long”, how long, O God, will you put up with evil?

“How long” is the believer’s question.  When illness strikes and we ask God for relief we wonder how long;  when a relationship is in trouble and we pray for relief we wonder how long; when someone is dying and will not recover from that which ravages their body or being we wonder how long.  From our view God’s handling of time makes us wonder about the goodness of God.  This is the seed planted by the enemy in the garden of Eden that God wasn’t really good—that his command was robbing them.

This is the seed of doubt still being planted by the enemy as we wait for the promise of Jesus to be fulfilled; two thousand years and counting and we hear the enemy’s whisper—he’s not really coming; only fools think he will really set all things to right; do you think it makes a bit of difference if you follow Jesus.

“But do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day. The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance.”

1. “As some think of slowness”; the writer here points out that we lack God’s perspective on time.

In 1975 the British rock band Electric Light Orchestra released their album “Face the Music”; this was in the days of records and cassette tapes—the long forgotten days before you could download it as a ringtone for your cell phone. (Some of you remember those days.)  The first song in this collection was “Fire on High”; at the start of this song is what sounds like someone chanting in another language.  It actually was something called back masking; a recorded piece of music played backwards (thought clever at the time).  Played intelligibly (forewords) the words say "The music is reversible but Time is not. Turn back, turn back, turn back."

These musicians succinctly expressed the human angst with respect to time and our longing to turn it back.  It is hard for us to think from any other perspective of time than from within time.  We want to stop it, rewind it, or keep our time in it going

The writer of 2 Peter invites us to consider a different perspective on time: “with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day.”  The writer is referencing Psalm 90:4, “For a thousand years in your sight are like yesterday when it is past, or like a watch in the night.”  When the new testament cites the older testament the broader context of the older testament  citation is assumed.  The context of this passage is the declaration of the eternal nature of God; “From everlasting to everlasting you are God”, declares the Psalmist, just before he speaks of a thousand years being like a day.

God’s perspective on time is not bound like ours; the delay between the first coming of Jesus and the second—even though it seems long to us—when considered against the backdrop of eternity alters perspective.

To say that God is eternal is to say that God is qualitatively different from his creation and any aspect of it. If God were merely quantitatively different then he would merely live longer than we do. But of course it is not the case that God lives longer. God is not subject to time at all. God is eternal. Herein is our blessing, for merely adding years to the life of any of us or all of us will not alter the human condition—a sin riddled world. To be sure, over the span of 180 million years carbon and sulphur, nitrogen and hydrogen will form oil. But 180 million years will do nothing for the human condition. In God, however, we have what no time-extension will ever give us. In him we have that dwelling place which we need and crave, in view of the human condition, but which we can articulate only feebly and give to ourselves not at all.

2. Do you remember what you did yesterday—in detail that is? Likely you could begin with this morning and describe in some detail the sequence of what you did until now.  But what about last Wednesday—what did you have for lunch, how many phone calls did you make or take; how many emails did you write or read—if you lost the electronic record of those could you recall what you wrote or what you said in those phone calls.  We might be able to recall today in some level of detail but last week; last month; last year; ten years ago?

God sees time with intensity we lack; with the Lord a thousand years are like one day.  No detail escapes our Lord’s attention of the last thousand years or the thousand before that—indeed as the Psalmist said, he knows all the days that were formed for me when none of them yet existed.  Does this not expose our frailty and need of God?  All those things you want to be over, those things you that make you cry “how long”—it is not to our great relief to be able to trust them to the One whose perspective on time knows no limits with respect to intensity.  Is it not a great joy to know our Lord who is able to resolve all things in himself—all things because he knows all things with respect to our lives?

2.  John Wesley’s frequent citation of Psalm 145:9 indicates it to be one of his favourite texts in the bible; the truth of that text indeed animated his life and ministry.  “The Lord is good to all,
and his compassion is over all that he has made.”  Wesley’s heart throbbed with the conviction deduced from the truth of this text that God could deliver anyone from the grip of sin and evil.

This same truth—God’s goodness and love to and for all people—is the truth stated so beautifully in the text we are considering (also fond to Wesley). “The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance.”  We speak of this patience as the forbearance of God.

Our world flat-out rejects the idea of God’s goodness; even if God exists his goodness is highly questionable, many say.  We ourselves are sometimes shaken by things great and small in clinging to our conviction that God indeed loves people; God is good to all.  When difficulty comes like the evil of disease, or the tragedy of accident, or being overcome by addiction we hear the whisper of the enemy that if God were good surely he would have “done something about this”; or when unrelieved trouble assails us the enemy whispers “why isn’t God doing something about it.”

Consider a question.  If you were to pick a moment in history that would have been an ideal moment for Christ to return, an ideal moment for the final consummation to occur and evil to have been purged once and for all from the universe when would that have been?  Would it have been 1938 in time to prevent World War 2 and the holocaust?  Surely it would have been good for neither of those things to take place.  Would it have been 1916 the year before the Bolshevik revolution that gave rise to dictators like Stalin and atrocities like the Gulag?  Would it have been longer ago like before the black plague in Europe or the 100 years war—surely much suffering would have avoided?

I can hear your protest; but then I would never have existed!  As astonishing as it seems, to be beyond comprehension, the truth is that the reason for God’s forbearance; the reason for the delay is setting all things to right; the reason God’s is yet waiting to purge the universe of evil is because God was waiting for you, for me to come to repentance.  WE find such love overwhelms us

God is shaken at the way evil scourges his creation, disfiguring people and warping nature. At a point in history chosen inscrutably by him he appoints his Son to be that agent by which the ironfast grip of evil on the entire creation is broken.  God also knows that point in history chosen inscrutably by him when in the Son he will return to destroy evil—when he will finally put to right all the stuff we know needs final resolution.  God’s present forbearance is because he loves people and does not want anyone swept away in that purging.

4. We must be careful to note that the day of Lord will come; God’s forbearance is not an indication that everything is ok, anything really goes.  We must not trifle with the forbearance of God.  The image of fire consuming the impurities in the cosmos at the end of time is not a computer software game.  It is announced so that we might respond to Jesus’ message—the time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is near; repent, and believe on the good news”.  Change your mind, do an about face—it is true that God is good and loves you and me.

At the same time God’s forbearance assures us that as long as the God’s “day” for repentance lasts it is never too late to start again.

5 We sometimes hear of this coming day of evil’s purge and wonder about God’s goodness.  Often it is because of how we imagine we would deal with people who have done so much wrong.  We must never think that God delights to destroy; that he can hardly wait to get his hands on certain people so he can snack them around before dispatching them.  His forbearance—two thousand years and counting—shows us this couldn’t be further from the truth.

Kissing is not a subject I often take up from the pulpit; yet the Bible speaks of some kisses.  One of my favourite texts on kissing is in Psalm 85—the Psalm appointed by the Lectionary to be read today.  It reads (v. 10): “Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet; righteousness and peace will kiss each other.”  Do you know when that kiss occurred? It occurred most definitively at the cross of Jesus Christ when the righteousness of God and the love of God meet to deal with our sin.  The result for us is mercy.  Listen to what else the Psalmist calls us to hear: “Let me hear what God the Lord will speak, for he will speak peace to his people, to his faithful, to those who turn to him in their hearts.”  What a kiss.

But do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day. The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance.