Adapted from The Word for Every Day, by Alvin Rogness, page 219, Augsburg Publishing House.
The psalmist says, “A thousand years in thy sight are but as yesterday” (Psalm 90:4). God is not harried by the clock. He can wait. One would think that a God who designed the universe to function with such precision that we can predict the movement of the planets with computerized accuracy, would be completely intolerant with waiting. But he is a waiting God. He has infinite patience with his children.
To understand this, we must remember that he gave the gift of freedom to his children. We may obey or disobey. He deals with us as sons and daughters, not as pieces in a game, or as cogs in his machine.
When he sees his children turning away from him and going on paths that will lead to pain and ruin, he has no option but to let us go. He does not withdraw the gift of choice from us. He does not, in impatience, change us into puppets or robots. We might wish that he would, when we plunge ourselves into wars and other disasters. But he wants us with him as a family, not as an army camp or a zoo. He grieves, he is indignant, but he does not try to force us to turn about and find his will. He waits.
Helmut Thielicke has a series of sermons on the story of the prodigal son which he calls The Waiting Father. No parable of Jesus is so poignant a picture of God as this. When the son asked for the inheritance and went to the far country, the father could have refused, locked him up, and spared him that sorry chapter of his life. But this is not the way of God. Or he could have sent his servants to the far country, kidnapped the son, and brought him safely home. But he didn’t.
Yet the father did not forget his son; he yearned for his return. Day after day, he waited. What sorrow there must be for our heavenly Father to have us wander off, squander our lives in selfish pursuits, while he must wait and wait for us to discover that we are lost.
In a profound sense, of course, he does pursue us. He does this through the Word and sacraments, the means of grace through which the Holy Spirit keeps calling us. But in pursuing us he is not a hunter who forces his prey. God may be at our heels, but he will not trap us, catch us in some net, or bring us down by force. He is nearer than the air we breathe, but he waits.
Luke 5:11-24 — (Jesus said), “There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them. Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything. When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ So he got up and went to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again;he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.”
Luke 15:7 — (Jesus said), “I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.”
Psalm 90:4 — A thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by, or like a watch in the night.
II Peter 3:8-9 — But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.
Give me, O Lord, a steadfast heart, which no unworthy affection may drag downwards; give me an unconquered heart, which no tribulation can wear out; give me an upright heart, which no unworthy purpose may tempt aside. Bestow on me also, O Lord, understanding to know you, diligence to seek you, wisdom to find you, and a faithfulness that may finally embrace you; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.