Jesus wasted 30 years of his life. If he came in the incarnation to save the world and bring new creation quickly, then Jesus really screwed up.
How slow and inefficient.
And that was after waiting for at least 2,000 years since the problem even entered the world!
Besides his birth and one short trip to the temple, we know very little of what Jesus did for the first 30 years of his life. What a waste.
30 years of obscurity.
30 years of accomplishing nothing.
30 years where this broken and hurting world was waiting for a savior – waiting for something. Anything.
What a royal waste of time. 1
People were oppressed and died in their sin during that time. Prisoners rotted in their cells during those years. The blind slept in darkness. The poor continued to beg for what little food they could obtain. If Jesus “came to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed,” (Lk 4:18) then what was he doing for those 30 years? Why did he wait so long to do anything? Why was he so slow to save the world?
“How long, O Lord?”
That seems to be a common cry for people in Scripture. David cries “how long?” multiple times in Psalm 6, 13, and 35. Other Psalmist’s cry out “how long?” in Psalm 74, 89, 94, and 119. Habakkuk cries out, “how long, Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen? Or cry out to you, ‘Violence!’ but you do not save?” (Hab 1:2). Even the inhabitants of heaven cry out, “how long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?” (Rev 6:10).
There is a quote by Nicolas Wolterstorff that has been stuck in my mind for the last few months. It comes from his book, Lament for a Son, where he is grieving the death of his son. He says, “If creation took just six days, why does re-creation take so agonizingly long? If your conquest of primeval chaos went so quickly, why must your conquest of sin and death and suffering be so achingly slow?” 2
I have really felt that sentiment these past few months. I have wrestled with how “achingly slow” new creation is creeping into this decaying and dying world. A young child dies. Cancer is the diagnosis for yet another loved one. One more person is abused. One more Christmas comes around with empty seats at the table. The darkness seems to be growing. And yet we still keep on waiting. We still keep crying to God, “how long?”
Why are you not doing something, Lord? Why are you letting sin and sorrow continue? Why have you waited so long? Why have you not set the prisoners free? Why are the blind still in their darkness? Why do you do nothing about oppression? Why do you leave the poor to die on the streets? Why do you wait, Lord? Why don’t you act soon? Why don’t you act now? Why are you wasting so much time?
Advent and the Agonizingly Slow God
Advent seems to heighten this feeling. We are once again waiting. After more than two thousand years God showed up – but he waited 30 years before doing anything. Now we’ve waited another two thousand years for God to show up again and finish what he started.
Advent is about longing – anticipating. Waiting.
But how long must we wait? Why is God so agonizingly slow? Does he not feel the pain and brokenness of the world? Does he not want to see all things made new? Why is his work so “slow and inefficient”? 3
I’d like to think I could have gotten things done a lot faster and more efficiently if I were in charge. I think a lot of us think that if we’re honest with ourselves. Our culture is all about speed and efficiency – getting things done quickly and always being productive. Especially during Christmas time we tend to speed up while we finish everything for the end of the year. There is so much to do, so much to accomplish, and so little time for it all. We can’t waste any time – we don’t even have any time left to waste.
But Jesus did.
According to our standards, he wasted 30 years doing absolutely nothing. Some of us even celebrate his life like the 30+ years in between his birth and death were wasted time. We show up on Christmas for his birth and then don’t come back until Good Friday (or Easter Sunday) when he “finished” his work. We don’t have time for anything in between.
But Jesus did.
Maybe we should rethink our understanding of time and our flippant use of it like some sort of currency. Maybe we should learn to slow down during this busy season of the year, to spend some real time waiting during Advent. Maybe we miss all that God is doing in the hustle and bustle of our hurried lives – we don’t have have time to look around – to really be present in the moment. Maybe we need to learn how to waste time – a royal waste of time, or perhaps even better yet: a holy waste of time.
. . .
Yesterday I did nothing. Nothing productive, nothing to get ahead on next semester, nothing that anybody would really be interested in hearing about. I left emails unanswered. I let calls go to voicemail. I didn’t respond to text messages. It was a good respite from the end of the semester and finals. It was good to slow down and just “waste time. ”
I haven’t figured out how to truly wait in proper anticipation. Anticipation and waiting only seems to breed impatience in me. I don’t understand why God moves so “achingly slow.” I want new creation here more than anything. I think he’s waited too long to heal this broken world. I think he’s taking too long to heal my broken heart. I want him to move faster than he does – so, so much faster. I still don’t understand Jesus’ 30 years of obscurity – his wasted 30 years. But I’m learning that it’s alright to not understand everything, that I have much to learn – about myself, about this world, and about God.
“I’m dying to live,
but I’m learning to wait…” 4
- This is a phrase from the title of Marva J. Dawn’s book “A Royal Waste of Time,” which I was told about by my professor. I have not read the book but do like the title.
- Nicholas Wolterstorff. Lament for a Son (Kindle Locations 395-396). Kindle Edition.
- A phrase I’ve stolen from this wonderful post by Anne Jackson.
- This is a line from Andrew Peterson’s song “The Rain Keeps Falling” off his newest album, The Burning Edge of Dawn.