Reflections on the “Already-Not Yet”

All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field. The grass withers and the flowers fall, because the breath of the LORD blows on them. Surely the people are grass. Do you not know? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. —Isaiah 40: 6b-7, 28 (NIV)

For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the LORD, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. —Jeremiah 29:11 (NRSV)

We are finite and mortal. God is infinite and immortal. His Word, and hence his promises, last forever. He has delivered us in Christ; he has walked among us. Yet we are not fully delivered in the sense that there is still sin and evil in the world. Full deliverance will come when Christ returns.

What, then, shall our response be to this “already-not yet” reality of God’s promise to us? It may not make sense to us but God calls us to wait patiently and expectantly. In doing so, we may have to suffer but “suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.” (Romans 5:3-5). God has promised to act and to do so decisively. Therefore I must trust and obey even when my understanding of his will and ways is incomplete. That is not something I do easily. The following entry from my prayer journal, dated July 16, 2004, illustrates my struggle with this tension.

After a week of despair and depression in which I grieved for my dad [who had died in March] and was stunned to learn I am going to teach middle school for the first time in my life, I had the breakthrough this morning. The issue is not all this crap happening around me. The issue is Christ’s faithfulness. It started with Jim’s email last night and this morning I really listened for what Scriptures had to say to me. Psalm 46 affirmed God is our present help in trouble and that we should not fear even in the most dire of circumstances. It also exhorted us to be still and know that God is God, i.e., to stand before God quietly in surrender. Paul spoke of his awful situations and repeatedly affirmed that Christ is faithful and trustworthy, that he delivered Paul in all circumstances. I realized that is what I have lacked this week. Christ may not deliver me from my circumstances but he will empower me to conquer them. I have been too myopic in this. No more. I choose to trust Christ.

As a postscript, Christ did not deliver me from those circumstances I dreaded. I ended up teaching high school the last year of my professional career, an issue on which I reflected last week, and continued to grieve my dad’s death for sometime thereafter. Yet even in those troubling times, Christ DID sustain me, his grace was sufficient for my needs, and I discovered that when I began to trust Christ, he was utterly reliable. And so I continue to live in this tension of the “already-not yet” with the understanding that the more I trust the better I will be able to deal with any and every circumstance life throws my way.

What about you? How do you handle the tension that is produced by the “already-not yet” nature of God’s promise to deliver us? In what ways, if any, does it challenge your faith? How do you meet the challenge?