‘Patience Obtains All Things’
When we celebrate the Eucharist, when Quakers convene only to sit in silence and when the Amish shun technology that would accelerate the rhythms of life, we are all doing what Jesus did when he found communion with his Father in prayer. We are living out, giving expression to a fundamental character of our Christian faith. It is an eschatological orientation.
Eschatos is the New Testament’s word for what comes last, for what is final. Jesus taught that what surrounds us is fleeting. Hence his parable about storing treasure not here but in the life that is to come. Christ personally witnessed to this with his freely accepted death on the cross. To be a Christian is to embrace the teaching and witness of Christ.
All wise ones know, like the author of Ecclesiasticus, that the world rushes toward us only to race past us.
Many of the world’s wisdoms remind us that all things must pass. In his teaching and life, our Lord proclaimed and produced something more. He said that the flux we call history, the rush of our daily lives, is moving toward a purposeful conclusion, a gathering in of grace and comfort, which he called the kingdom of God. In his resurrection from the dead, this kingdom broke into history, decisively yet only to a degree. Had it come completely, what we call history and the lives we have been given to live would already be at an end.
This is why eschatology, the study of end times, is fundamental to our identity as Christians. All wise ones know, like the author of Ecclesiasticus, that the world rushes toward us only to race past us. However, in his death and his resurrection Christ has summoned our whizzing world to himself.
You cannot be a Christian and not live an eschatological life, which is to say, you must live one marked by a patient expectation in the promise and plan of Jesus.
Eschatology is an extraordinary word. If you would like a simple substitute, try “patience.” You cannot be a Christian and not live an eschatological life, which is to say, you must live one marked by a patient expectation in the promise and plan of Jesus. One can be spiritual without being religious, but one cannot be Christian without engaging in eschatological activity, which is anything that appears as folly save to those patiently awaiting their Lord.
St. Paul told the Colossians:
Brothers and sisters:
If you were raised with Christ, seek what is above,
where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.
Think of what is above, not of what is on earth.
For you have died,
and your life is hidden with Christ in God.
When Christ your life appears,
then you too will appear with him in glory (3:1-4).
In the eyes of the world, nothing is accomplished when we gather for Eucharist. We only fulfill the command that our Lord gave to us the night before he died when he revealed that in his life and death the fate of the world had been contested and conquered.
To sit in Quaker silence is to insist that nothing more needs to be said. The Amish do not disdain the modern world; they find delight in their share of the kingdom. When some Christians embrace the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity and obedience, they give witness that their lives are rushing toward the loveliest and the everlasting.
To recite the Nicene or the Apostles’ Creed is to rehearse for ourselves the meaning that Christ gave to history, to our own stories. In them we are reminded that, if we give ourselves to him, our lives rush toward a radiant conclusion.
The great Carmelite mystic and doctor of the church, St. Teresa of Avila, put the need for patience in fewer words. Found in her handwriting on a card in her prayer book, they are easily memorized in their original Spanish:
Nada te turbe;
nada te espante;
todo se pasa;
Dios no se muda,
todo lo alcanza.
Quien a Dios tiene,
nada le falta.
Solo Dios basta.
Let nothing disturb you,
Let nothing frighten you,
All things are passing away:
God never changes.
Patience obtains all things
Whoever has God lacks nothing;
God alone suffices.