It’s the end of the world as we know it
In the novel, The Last Policeman, a policeman investigates a suicide that he suspects was actually a murder. One of his difficulties with the investigation is that no one cares: not the police, lawyers or forensics. A large asteroid is going to hit the earth in exactly six months, wiping all life from the planet. In the face of universal destruction, what does one more death matter? In fact, when everyone is going to die, does anything matter?
When people discover that all is going to be wiped out, their priorities change. Things that were sensible before seem stupid now. One character comments drily that investments in 10 year bonds have fallen substantially. In fact, the stocks and futures markets have both collapsed. Becoming rich is pointless. The one who dies with the most toys… still dies!
The end of the world is nigh
Like the novel, we know that, one day, the earth and everyone on it, is going to be destroyed in fire. We don’t know the exact date, but we do know it’s going to happen. Like the novel, when you know that everything is going to be destroyed, your values change. Money and possessions seem less important when you know that they are going to simply vanish at some point in the near future. We know that, in the long run, the only thing that will survive, is people themselves: standing before God to be judged.
Space to repent
In the novel, there is a gap between the knowledge of the destruction and the destruction itself. For us, the gap between knowing that the end of the world is coming and the judgement itself is critical — the delay is, in fact, the whole point. The space between the promise and the actual event is the period that God gives us to change, to repent. This is the constant refrain through the Bible: God delays judgement so that people have an opportunity to repent. “Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”
Scoffers can poke fun at Jesus’ return. Jesus said he would come back, but it hasn’t happened, and, they say, it isn’t going to happen. But they miss the point, which is that the delay is only to give them (and others) the chance to repent. God could execute his judgement without any announcement or without any delay. But He choses to announce the coming judgement, and then defers judgement, so that sinners (like us) have a chance to repent.
Even for the wicked…
In the 1 Kings passage, the story of Naboth’s vineyard is famous. Naboth refuses to sell his family’s land to the Ahab. Ahab’s wife, Jezabel, arranges for Naboth to be falsely accused and executed, so that Ahab can have the land he wanted. Through Elijah, God announces judgement on Ahab and his family for his wickedness.
But before the judgement is enacted on Ahab, Ahab repents and changes — somewhat. He becomes meek, and God defers execution of the judgment. It seems that Ahab was still a wicked man, “There was never anyone like Ahab, who sold himself to do evil in the eyes of theLord” (1 Kings 21:25). In later generations, his name was proverbial for wickedness (2 Kings 8:18). Despite this, God still responded with mercy to Ahab’s humbling himself.
God’s delays are not a sign of God’s inability, but rather a demonstration of His mercy.