The entire phrase Christians share is “God is rarely early, always on time, but never late.” It’s a phrase which makes little sense coming from God’s point of view. Of course he knows the timing of every event without it being early or late. So it must be that we share these words from a human, rather than a divine, perspective. It is we who conclude that God is rarely early. We are the ones that say he’s always on time. We believe he’s never late. But is that true?
Is God never late? I would submit God is late, intentionally so, at times.
Consider these examples of God’s apparent tardiness:
1. A father receives bad news. Cancer has come but the diagnosis is too late. He dies. Wasn’t God too late?
2. A family experiences unemployment. The bills overwhelm. The paychecks don’t come. They default on the mortgage and the bank forecloses on their home. God was too late, right?
3. A student waits for potential financial support to come in. If it happens, he will leave to serve an orphanage in Cuba. It doesn’t. He misses the deadline and is left home.
4. A mother’s plane is delayed and, despite repeated prayer, she arrives home late. She missed her son’s concert. So the flight was delayed and she was late, but do we still uphold God was on time?
These are fairly common life situations. Each of which, from a human perspective, says “God, you were late!”
So, if it’s true that God is late, what might be his purpose for being so?
* To display his glory. This was the case when Lazarus first died. John 11:6 (all of John 11) records that when Jesus hears Lazarus is sick, he stays where he is. He doesn’t immediately go to Lazarus. Then, two days later, Jesus goes to him. Upon arriving, both sisters of Lazarus remind Jesus that if he had been on time, Lazarus would be alive. Jesus tells them that if they believe he will show them God’s glory.
It would be preferable to have Jesus audibly telling us that God’s lateness will show his glory. But, why do we believe that his word to the sisters is so different that what he’d share with us? Why can’t we receive all of life, even God’s tardiness, as displays of his glory?
* To reveal the Son. In the previous story, Jesus says those who believe in him will live even though they die and through believing in him they will never die. Jesus is the resurrection and the life. How can he show this? By being late and letting Lazarus die. It’s only by demonstrating his resurrection of Lazarus that we observe the validity of Jesus’ words. He is the resurrection and he just showed us!
Has there been a time in your life when God’s lateness permitted you to see him in a new light?
* For our sake. In the same account, amongst Jesus, Lazaraus, and his sisters are the disciples who are following Jesus. He tells them that Lazarus has fallen asleep and they need to wake him. They think, as most of us would, that Lazarus will wake up on his own. Jesus clarifies that he’s dead. And Jesus is glad that he was not there to heal him for the disciples’ sake (11:14-15). Behind being late, waiting for Lazarus to die, and raising him from the dead is a desire that they would believe Jesus was sent from God (42).
I believe God’s lateness teaches us many things. Patience. Trust. Humility. Faith. Endurance. His lateness is for our sake, a greater and deeper benefit that you and I often aren’t able to immediately grasp.
* Do you agree or disagree (which is totally acceptable!) with the premise of this post – that God is often tardy? If so, why or why not?