Christmas. Summer vacation. Birthday.
We love to anticipate things. Can’t wait. It’s gonna be awesome.
And the anticipation is half the fun, isn’t it?
When my wife and I were first married, one of the things I had to learn was that whereas I’m impulsive and like to do things on the spur of the moment, she enjoys the anticipation phase more. Rather than coming home from work and suggesting that we go out for supper tonight, I needed to learn to make the suggestion in the morning so she’d enjoy having time to think about it.
That’s a pretty simple adjustment, and an enjoyable one at that.
As a biblicist, I’m always asking myself, “What’s the biblical perspective on, or approach to, this or that topic?” So what’s the biblical perspective on anticipation?
Does God anticipate things?
Well, he certainly talks a lot about the future, and he seems to enjoy the prospect of what’s coming. Isaiah 11 comes to mind.
Theologians say that God lives beyond time—but then, no one really knows what that means. He certainly knows about time and understands it perfectly—having created it—and he speaks as though he’s thinking in terms of time, though he knows the end from the beginning (Isa 46.10).
Jesus endured the cross “for the joy that was set before him” (Heb 12.2). That sounds like anticipation to me.
Should we anticipate things?
If God’s doing all that anticipating in the Bible, he clearly intends that it should be part of our thinking as well. We ought to look forward to stuff. Excitedly, eagerly, expectantly.
What should we look forward to? Is there any biblical guidance on that?
I’m not asking what our purpose or goal for life is, though that’s an important question too—in fact, I think it includes our question, though it’s broader and more basic than it. The Bible gives us guidance on the larger question of purpose, reason for living:
- Clearly the Prime Directive is, as the scholars
say, “doxological”—we exist for the purpose of giving glory to God, both in
this life (1Co 10.31) and the next (Rev 7.9-12). Even eating and drinking are
things we should do for his glory.
- Sidebar: How do you eat and drink to the glory of God? You recognize food and drink as gifts from a generous God, creatively designed for our pleasure (color, texture, flavor, etc.) and given to us freely and abundantly. You delight in his supply and his artistry even as you delight in the food. Eating, properly done, should be an act of worship. But we’re not worshiping the food—that’s gluttony, a form of idolatry. We worship the Creator, not what he has created (Rom 1.25).
- Along the way we consider other things. As just one example, Jesus said that he came to give us “abundant” life (Jn 10.10). We exist to live abundantly: joyously, committedly, living out all the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5.22-23) with delight.
Now, as part of that purposeful life, what do we anticipate? What do we look forward to?
The Bible speaks to that as well.
We look forward to the return of Christ; we are “those who look for him” (Heb 9.28); “from [heaven] we look for the Saviour” (Php 3.20); we look “for that blessed hope, even the glorious appearing of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ” (Ti 2.13). We’ve been doing that from the moment he left (Ac 1.11). It’s the greatest of our anticipations.
So how do we live in light of that certain coming event? How do we live in light of it—the brightest light?
There’s a little book in the Bible that focuses on that question. It’s in the New Testament, a letter by Paul. We call it 2 Thessalonians—because it’s one of two letters he wrote to a church in Thessalonica (today’s Thessaloniki, or Saloniki), and because it’s the shorter. (Really; they put it after 1 Thessalonians primarily because it was shorter—though most commentators also believe it was written second.)
The book’s 3 chapters address 3 ideas:
- Christ’s coming is going to right all the wrongs.
- Christ’s coming will happen on God’s timetable.
- We should be living as God’s stewards in the meantime.
There’s a lot to talk about here.
We’ll get to it next time.
Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash
Your comment about the timelessness of God sparked my interest. I’ve never been convinced that God is outside of time. In seminary that was how he was described and while I’m not opposed to the idea, I’ve not seen a compelling case for it. In fact, it seems to me that more information about God in the Bible is put in time bound terms. Just one example would be God described as the eternal King (I Timothy 1:17). I don’t think we should brush aside the time elements so quickly by saying that God had to speak to us in this way because we wouldn’t understand a world without timeline. That idea would water down any area of theology. And we are created in God’s image as time oriented people. Some might say that the issue is that it constricts God to be “time bound.” God is restricted in several ways already. He never acts outside his character so could time be as much his character as other aspects? I wonder if perhaps we have tried to alleviate the stress of thinking about eternity past and future (it blows my mind) by trying to come up with something else altogether? I’m open to considerations either way.
Dan Olinger says
Good questions. I would distinguish between the limitations God’s nature puts on him and potential limitations based on time in that God’s nature is internal to him, whereas time does not appear to be. He seems to imply that in his personal name, Yahweh. For an example of a problem down the road for your suggestion, see what Open Theism has done in limiting God’s omniscience because since the future hasn’t happened yet, “there’s nothing to know.”
From my comments the issue that you picked up on was the issue of limitation. I certainly am not trying to limit God but describing Him the way he does which usually seems to be in time bound terms. If I understand your reference to Yahweh correctly as the “I AM” and the always existent one, it seems to me that this is still a time bound reference (perhaps I missed the reference). It seemed like your reference of Open Theism was an example of the dangers of limiting God and I agree with you. If it was an objection to this idea of God existing in time because he can only know the future if he doesn’t exist in time I would disagree. Whether he exists within time or outside of time God knows the future.
Wouldn’t Eternal King, eternity past, always existing, and eternity future lose some of their meaning if there hasn’t always been time?
I would readily admit that I can’t comprehend God, so perhaps this is just a limitation point for me, but my concern is that God regularly describes his person and actions in the scriptures with time bound terms. I understand that usually it’s because his actions intersect with time bound people and yet I wonder if these descriptions are more than just for our benefit.