“A wizard is never late, nor is he early. He arrives precisely when he means to.”
This sentence, uttered by Gandalf the Grey in Peter Jackson’s film adaptation of The Fellowship of the Ring, comes as the famous wizard arrives in the Shire for Bilbo Baggins birthday party. Bilbo’s nephew Frodo has seemingly been waiting hours for his arrival and is none too pleased at the pace in which Gandalf has made his entrance. After he offers up this rebuttal, the two characters stare at each other for a few tense moments before breaking into smiles and embracing. Though not found in Tolkien’s original novel, the scene is sweet, sentimental, and conveys the genuine affection and admiration Frodo feels for this legendary and awe-inspiring character.
I love the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy. I love Gandalf. And, despite its “off-novel” addition, I love this scene.
I don’t, however, love it when people are late. I love it even less when I think God is late.
I’ve discussed in earlier blog posts about how it took almost 10 years between writing my first novel to ultimately getting published. I was frustrated and irritated. In my mind, God was late.
I have a friend who tried for years and years to become pregnant. Month after month, the stick wouldn’t turn blue, and her heartache grew. I was devastated and disappointed for her. In my mind, God was late.
For the past year, the pandemic has dragged on and more and more people have gotten sick, died, lost their businesses, or suffered other hardships. I am exhausted and discouraged. In my mind, God has been late there, too.
In our limited, human view of things, it’s so easy to get impatient with God when He doesn’t work on our time table. Things we think should happen simply…don’t. We know God is good. We know He is victorious. We know He will provide according to His promises. So we pray and we pray and we pray, but all we hear is silence; all we see is inactivity; all we feel is disheartened. There is a need–for us, for our family and friends, for the world–and yet God does nothing.
In our minds, He is late.
And we are not alone in this. The Israelites felt this way too.
The time between when the Old Testament ends and the New Testament begins is called the “Intertestamental Period.” It was a 400 year time span in which God seemed absent. Before the Bible, God spoke to his people through the prophets and yet, between Malachi and John the Baptist, no prophets spoke–God was silent. These earlier prophets had spoken of a Savior, of a coming salvation for God’s people, and yet no Messiah came–God was inactive.
Keep in mind, the people of Israel knew God’s words. They knew His promises, His prophecy, and His character. And yet, during this seemingly 400 year period of nothingness, many began to lose faith.
In their minds, God was late.
But, during this lapse in our Bibles, the world hadn’t stopped. At the end of the Old Testament, the Israelites had returned from Babylonian captivity. The temple had been rebuilt, the Law and the priesthood restored. In terms of empires, the Persians conquered the Babylonians, then the Greeks conquered the Persians, sweeping Israel into Hellenistic culture. Soon, many Jews were speaking Greek, practicing Greek customs, and worshipping Greek gods. At one point, a statue of the Greek god Zeus was even placed in the temple in the holy of holies.
The Israelites were tired of waiting. Despite their rich history with God, despite all He had done, all He had promised, in their minds, He wasn’t moving fast enough. To them, any god–even a false god–that was present and active, was better than one who took too long to accomplish what He’d said He was going to accomplish.
What the Jews failed to understand is the same thing we in our impatience also can’t seem to grasp: God’s timing is not our own. His heart values maturation over materialization.
During times in our lives when God seems silent or inactive, He’s working in ways we can’t see or understand in order to prepare us for what He has in store next. The experiences inside our waiting serve to make ready our hearts and our spirits for the time to come.
The 400 year “silence” between the Old and New Testaments was a time of tremendous change and upheaval for the Israelites. Cultures merged. Infrastructure improved and travel exploded. Jewish texts were translated into different languages. Religion reached a low point, not only for the Jews, but for the Greeks and Romans as well. Apathy, indifference, and disillusionment were the prevailing attitudes of the day. By the time the Romans took over in 63 BC, the outlook seemed grim and life became unbearable. For the Jews, their only hope of salvation was in God and His promised Messiah, if He ever came.
And it was then that He did.
“But when the time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive the full rights of sons.” (Galatians 4:4-5)
God, in His perfect wisdom, knew the exact right time for the Messiah’s arrival. He wasn’t early. He wasn’t late. In the words of Gandalf, “he arrive[d] precisely when he [meant] to.” Our Creator spent those 400 years of Jewish impatience priming the world for His Son, preparing His people to receive their King.
“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.” (2 Peter 3:9)
When we view God’s timing in terms of human sensibilities, we forget that “[His] thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways [His] ways” (Isaiah 55:8) Though our prayers and petitions may not be answered on our schedule, we can rest assured knowing the timing of their resolution will always be perfect and will always be for the good of God’s kingdom. His desire to grow us in our faith is much larger than His wish to provide us with an immediate answer to our every longing.
Maturity over materialization.
Faith over frustration.
Trust over timelines.
“The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him; it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.” (Lamentations 3: 25-26)