How long, O Lord? Will You forget me forever?
How long will You hide Your face from me?
How long shall I take counsel in my soul,
Having sorrow in my heart all the day?
How long will my enemy be exalted over me? (Psalm 13:1-2)
Lord, how long will You look on?
Rescue my soul from their ravages,
My only life from the lions. (Psalm 35:17)
How long shall the wicked, O Lord,
How long shall the wicked exult? (Psalm 94:3)
The psalms repeatedly show vexed believers. So much for the people of faith never feeling lost, impatient, confused, or abandoned by God. For instance, David, in Psalm 13, asks the Lord the question “How long?” four times. He wants to know the duration of his sentence. He feels forgotten, sorrowful, and defeated. He wants to know when it will all end. When will he feel important to God again? When will his sorrow turn to joy? When will he celebrate victory?
David is in the interim—that difficult, seemingly unbearable period between feeling new and renewed, filled and refilled. The interim can feel like a desert valley between two forested, snow-covered mountaintops: scorching hot, bone-dry, lifeless, barren. The interim is an interval requiring those within it to wait. They must wait for circumstances to improve. And waiting is hard. But waiting is an everyday component of the Christian life. Prior to Christ, it was the normal experience of believing Israel.
Ever since the first divine promise, the people of God have been waiting for God to bring about a change in their circumstances. With God’s promises to him concerning an heir and a land, Abraham walked a path of waiting, never seeing the fulfillment of all the promises. The people of Israel had to wait as captives in Egypt for 400 years. David, too, received a promise concerning an heir and an eternal kingdom for which he waited, never to see their realization before his death. The prophets promise the new covenant with its blessings of a regathering of Israel to the land, the forgiveness of sins, and the Holy Spirit’s internal sanctifying ministry. None lived to see the inauguration of its fulfillment in Jesus Christ. All lived in the interim … waiting.
Some prophets, as they grew weary of waiting for the Lord to deliver Israel from her troubles and as they witnessed the wicked prospering, like the composers of the psalms, also asked, “How long?”
How long is the land to mourn
And the vegetation of the countryside to wither?
For the wickedness of those who dwell in it,
Animals and birds have been snatched away,
Because men have said, “He will not see our latter ending.” (Jeremiah 12:4)
How long, O Lord, will I call for help,
And You will not hear?
I cry out to You, “Violence!”
Yet You do not save. (Habakkuk 1:1-2)
At Christmas, we celebrate the first advent. When the eternal Son of God made human flesh first appeared, He suffered and died for the atonement of the sins of humanity in fulfillment of ancient promises. At Easter, we celebrate His resurrection from the dead, also in fulfillment of words long written down. Yet, 40 days later, Jesus Christ left the earth—that is, He left us, went away as He ascended to the right hand of the Father. Yet, as He told His disciples in John 14, He did not leave them alone. He promised to send them the Holy Spirit, who would, by His indwelling, communicate the care of Jesus to them, particularly by comforting them in His absence and by reminding them of His teachings. He went away, but He did not leave them as orphans. They would have His comforting Spirit, His teachings, and one more thing. He promised to come back to them: “If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also. … You heard that I said to you, ‘I go away, and I will come to you’” (John 14:3, 28a). They, like so many before them, were in the interim, the period between Christ’s ascension and His second coming; the era between His departure and His return.
All believers are in the same interim. Jesus has left. He is with the Father. We have the Holy Spirit. We have the promise of His return and of our resurrection. And so we wait … and wait … and yes, we groan, too, for we yearn for His return and the blessings it will bring.
The Church has been waiting and groaning in the interim for more than 2,000 years. As Paul wrote, “[W]e ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit … groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (Romans 8:23).
We feel as though we are in a poor-fitting suit. We feel out of place. We know our destiny is to be resurrected in glory and to be rejoined to Jesus. Paul put it this way:
For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself. (Philippians 3:20-21)
In addition to resurrection, Jesus, when He returns and establishes His eternal Kingdom, will bring with Him righteousness, justice, and peace:
There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace,
On the throne of David and over his kingdom,
To establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness
From then on and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will accomplish this. (Isaiah 9:7)
For all of us, it is hard to be patient as we await the establishment of these three virtues. Every time we witness cruelty, corruption, or tyranny, we hunger for them. And the Christian martyrs cry out the age-old question of the faithful:
How long, O Lord, holy and true, will You refrain from judging and avenging our blood on those who dwell on the earth? (Revelation 6:10)
Living in the interim, waiting upon the Lord to accomplish His will and fulfill His promises, is no strange thing to Christians. We do it every day. We have been here for a long, long time.
One thing we can do for each other is remind each other how to wait. The Apostle teaches us that in “the present age” as we await the “blessed hope,” we should be godly, sensible, righteous, and zealous for good deeds (Titus 2:11-14).
It is also appropriate to groan and express to God in prayer our deep, eager longing for redemption. If you, with the martyrs, prophets, and psalmist feel a strong “How long?” rising within you as you observe the unrighteousness, suffering, and agony that surrounds us, express to God your weariness with our broken world and echo with John, “Come, Lord Jesus” (Revelation 22:20).
The Southwestern Seminary family is in an interim as we await God’s provision of a new president. Again, waiting is not new for any believer. The issue before us is how we wait. By God’s grace, we are moving forward prayerfully, zealous for godliness, good deeds, and love for our neighbors. Will you pray with us as we wait for our new leader?
Together, let’s wait well for the Son of Man to come with the clouds of heaven. He is worthy of all praise and worship, for He alone is our Redeemer. Come, Lord Jesus.