Ask Tom: Why Does God Act So Slow?

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Tom:

Why does God seem so slow to act in some situations?

Glenn
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Glenn:

Your question is a simple one, but it is also very deep. In fact, your question is one that Christians have struggled with for centuries. Why did God wait until Abraham was 100 years old before he gave him a son? Why did God wait 400 years before giving Israel a homeland? In fact, why did God wait for thousands of years before he sent Jesus? Any why do we still wait for his return after 2,000 years? Does it seem like God doesn’t care, or is slow, or perhaps he may not even exist at all? Even the Bible recognizes that—from the perspective of the believer—God seems slow to act. Notice what Jesus said in Luke 18:7. “Don’t you think God will surely give justice to his chosen people who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off?” (NLT). I feel that way sometimes; don’t you? 

First, let me turn to a few passages of Scripture that might help us understand slowness from God’s perspective. When the BIble talks about God being slow, it doesn’t usually refer to slowness acting according our desires. Instead, it refers to a slowness that we all love about God. Lookee lookee:

“Gracious and merciful is the Lord, slow to become angry” (Psalm 145:8). 

“The Lord is slow to anger but great in power” (Nahum 1:3).

“The Lord, the Lord God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in loving kindness” (Exodus 34:6).

“Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love” (Joel 2:13).

Look at what the prophet Jonah said when he saw that God decided not to destroy the Ninevites. Jonah protested, “Didn’t I say, before I left home that you would do this, Lord? That’s why I ran away to Tarshish! I knew that you are merciful and compassionate God, slow to get angry” (Jonah 4:2).

God’s primary reason for being—from our perspective—so slow, is because he wants to exercise his great compassion, love, and patience. But there are other reasons that God also acts slowly.

1. Sometimes God intervenes immediately. We pray. He answers. That happens for many people all the time. Think of the people whom Jesus healed. Their prayer was answered immediately. 

2. Sometimes God delays because the end result will bring him greater glory as happened with Jesus and Lazarus (John 11). Jesus intentionally waited two days before going to Lazarus. Raising Lazarus from the dead was a greater testimony to his deity than simply healing him.

3. What is a long time for us isn’t necessarily a long time for God. Scripture says that with God 1,000 years is as a day and a day is as 1,000 years (II Peter 3:8).

4. Sometimes God waits to act or doesn’t act because he is waiting for us to act and fix the problems that he has put under our control. In this sense, we act as God’s agents. People can see God acting on their behalf, through us, as long as we act to right a wrong or fix whatever the problem may be.

Let’s think ahead into truly long time scales. Imagine you are living in the New Heaven one trillion years from now. If you, in that glorified state, look back on the trillion years of your life, do you think that it will seem like a long wait to you because you were impatient with God over a matter of a few days, weeks, months, or even years? Will not our lives on earth seem like half a drop in a vast eternal ocean?

Let’s turn this around. Is God slow, or are we slow? Look at the admonition of scripture over our slowness. 

“If you make a vow to the Lord your God, you shall not delay fulfilling it, for the Lord your God will surely require it of you, and you will be guilty of sin” (Deuteronomy 23:21).

“When you make a promise to God, don’t be slow to keep it because God doesn’t like fools (Ecclesiastes 5:4).

“Why are you so slow to go in and take up your heritage…?” (Joshua 18:3).

In many passages, the issue of human slowness is translated as slothful or lazy. We often put off what we need to do because we get distracted with something else, or just plain don’t want to do it. But God is not this way. 

It’s healthy to keep in mind that God is not on our timetable, rather, we are on his timetable. He has a plan for each of us and as Christians we are to live our lives as God lives out his life through us. We are the creature. He is the Creator. 

So, the end of this is simple. God is not slow. We are impatient. But, allow that impatience to be transformed into trust. Once we know that God is working through his plan for us, then we can rest emotionally, psychologically, in whatever way we need so that we can experience God’s unfolding plan in our lives. 

“The Lord is not slow to fulfill His promise as some understand slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish but everyone to come to repentance” (II Peter 3:9).

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