Of Discontinuity and Waiting
by Nathan Brown
Sitting beside a hospital bed. Waiting.
The morning busy-ness of ward rounds, therapists, treatments, washing, and cleaning has subsided into a slower afternoon of napping, an occasional visitor, and waiting. Some are waiting for some measure of recovery, some wait with uncertainty, others wait with inevitability.
While we share this hope by word, we demonstrate and enact this hope by action.
My dad marked his 75th birthday with this unplanned but urgent hospital visit. He seems to be progressing OK at the moment, but it is another chapter in his ongoing 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 that 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 is 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 that even our best work cannot undo the ravages of sin and death.
While we yet pray, as Jesus taught His disciples, “May your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven” (Matt. 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 Cor. 15:52, 53).
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 are 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” (Rev. 21:4). As it will be with our bodies, so will it 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 realization 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 are urged to wait with patience and spiritual endurance (verses 1–13), with stewardship and endeavor 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 that 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 that are given to us. And while we share this hope by word, we demonstrate and enact this hope by action.
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 that 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 is book editor at Signs Publishing in Warburton, Victoria, Australia.
*Scripture quotations marked NLT are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright ©1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.