Waiting in Hope When Prophesied Events Are Seemingly Delayed
An often-overlooked but timely scene from the Book of Revelation relates how the souls of those righteous persons martyred during the Great Tribulation will, from beneath the altar of God, cry out, asking when their blood would be avenged through the exercise of Divine Judgment. The passage tells us that in response, “Each of them was given a white robe, and they were told to be patient a little while longer until the number was filled of their fellow servants and brothers who were going to be killed as they had been” (6:11). This cry for justice and vindication, along with the common human tendency toward impatience, echoes an important Old Testament theme.
In Psalm 13, for instance, the biblical author laments, “How long, O Lord? Will You utterly forget me? How long will You hide Your face from me? How long shall I harbor sorrow in my soul, grief in my heart day after day? How long will my enemies triumph over me? Look, answer me, O Lord, my God!” (verses 2-4). Similar heartfelt cries are found in Psalm 74:10-11 (a prayer in time of national calamity), Psalm 94:3-4, and in Psalm 69:3, in which the psalmist complains, “I am wearied with calling, my throat is parched; my eyes have failed with looking for my God.” Furthermore, the prophet Jeremiah states with dismay, “We wait for peace to no avail; for a time of healing, but terror comes instead” (8:15). Other such appeals for divine assistance are found in the Books of Daniel (9:19), Isaiah (33:2), Lamentations (5:20), and elsewhere.
Those faithful Catholics today who are aware of the “signs of the times” can easily understand—and perhaps identify with—these biblical expressions of confusion and doubt over the apparent delay in the fulfillment of many prophecies supposedly given about our own age. We know, based on the words of numerous alleged visionaries and other heavenly messengers, along with the evidence we see with our own eyes, that this world is seriously disordered—indeed, in a state of rebellion against Almighty God—and that the current state of affairs cannot go on indefinitely. We’ve heard or read about a coming time of societal unrest and disruption, with various chastisements or punishments for humanity’s sins, including natural disasters, the possibility of economic collapse, famine, martial law, war, political repression, and the eventual need for the True Church to go underground during a time of schism and religious persecution. Beyond that, we’re waiting for the events prophesied at Garabandal and elsewhere: the Warning, the Miracle, and the Great Chastisement (in whatever form it may take), finally followed by the Triumph of the Immaculate Heart of Mary and the arrival of the Era of Peace.
Some of us have been expecting and preparing for these events for many years now, and we can’t help but wonder: why are they delayed? Are the prophecies foretelling them false or mistaken, or has something happened to invalidate them? Is a still-unrecognized spiritual renewal finally underway in response to these heavenly warnings, negating the urgency of Divine Judgment? Is the moral condition of the world actually improving? Few would argue this to be the case—but we’re then left with the question of why nothing seems to be happening.
Catholics who try to warn their loved ones of the need to repent before judgment arrives often end up looking foolish or being considered fanatical alarmists; priests who try to prepare their people for what’s coming (often at the risk of being rebuked, disciplined, or otherwise restricted by their bishops) may succeed only in undermining their own credibility and authority; authentic visionaries and locutionists receiving dire heavenly warnings may find themselves sharing the frustrations of the much- maligned prophet Jeremiah (20:7-10), whose messages were largely rejected by his contemporaries.
In their efforts to know and do the will of God, some people have in effect put their lives on hold, passing up opportunities for new homes or jobs, forgoing vacations and other family activities, and making their experience of life less enjoyable and more difficult than would otherwise have been the case. Those who’ve made what they thought were prudent material preparations—such as storing emergency food, water, and other supplies (including Mass kits and other religious articles) and perhaps even purchasing property in remote areas as possible places of refuge—may be tempted to wonder if their efforts and investment will prove to be unnecessary or wasted.
Why is there an apparent delay in all that’s been prophesied? How long will this delay continue, and how are we supposed to respond to it?
Chronos versus Kairos
The ancient Greek language—the language in which much of the New Testament was written—had two different words for time. Chronos refers to measurable time: days, weeks, months, and years; it’s the origin of our words chronology and chronicles, meaning an orderly (and sometimes predictable) timeline. A parent who says, “My son will be graduating from high school a year from this spring” is using chronos.
Kairos is something different; it means “the appointed time” or “the proper moment.” This type of time is measured not by the calendar, but by the completion or fulfillment of certain conditions or events. If a child asks “When can I get my own smartphone like all my friends?”, the parent who responds “When you’re ready” (i.e., “When I think you’re mature enough,” or “When I think you’ve earned it or can be trusted with it”) is using kairos. The arrival of this moment cannot be easily predicted; it’s almost something of a “moving target” contingent on other events or conditions that may or may not occur.
Most biblical prophecy is rooted in kairos, as is most private revelation. (Indeed, while the Church is prudent or cautious about all alleged heavenly messages, it especially tends to view with suspicion those prophecies giving specific dates when events will supposedly take place). The problem in making sense of what is and isn’t happening in the world is that we human beings tend to think in terms of chronos; as the years pass without any major or dramatic changes to our world and to our lives, we wonder about the “delay”— while from Heaven’s viewpoint, God’s plan of salvation continues unfolding, and the prophesied events are on schedule.
Biblical Insights on God’s Timing
This is the context for understanding several important scriptural passages on the necessity of waiting for the unfolding of the divine plan. For instance, the Lord addressed the prophet Ezekiel:
Son of man, what is this proverb that you have in the land of Israel:
“The days drag on, and no vision ever comes to anything?” Say to them therefore: Thus says the Lord God: I will put an end to this proverb; they shall never quote it again in Israel. Rather, say to them:
The days are at hand, and also the fulfillment of every vision. Whatever I speak is final, and it shall be done without further delay . . . . Son of man, listen to the house of Israel saying, “The vision he sees is a long way off; he prophesies of the distant future!” Say to them therefore: Thus says the Lord God: None of My words shall be delayed any longer; whatever I speak is final, and it shall be done . . . (12:21-25, 28).
A similar message on divine timing was given to the prophet Habakkuk, who was told by the Lord, “Write down the vision clearly upon the tablets, so that one can read it readily. For the vision still has its time, presses on to fulfillment, and will not disappoint; if it delays, wait for it, it will surely come, it will not be late” (2:2-3).
This description of a reliable heavenly timetable is further developed in the New Testament; in particular, the 2nd Letter of St . Peter instructs us,
Do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years and a thousand years are like one day . The Lord does not delay His promise, as some regard “delay,” but He is patient with you, not wishing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance (3:8-9).
Thus, we see that divine “patience” is ordered to salvation: God wants to give sinners every possible chance to repent before they experience the fullness of His justice.
Scripture asserts that after a time set aside for repentance, the Lord will indeed overthrow all wickedness and vindicate those who remained faithful to Him. As we’re told, “See, the day of the Lord! See, the end is coming! Lawlessness is in full bloom, insolence flourishes, violence has risen to support wickedness. It [God’s intervention] shall not be long in coming, nor shall it delay” (Ezek . 7:10-11) . This idea is echoed in the New Testament Letter to the Hebrews:
Do not throw away your confidence; it will have great recompense. You need endurance to do the will of God and receive what He has promised. For, after just a brief moment, He Who is to come shall come; He shall not delay. But My just one shall live by faith, and if he draws back I take no pleasure in him. We are not among those who draw back and perish, but among those who have faith and will possess life (10:35-39).
If faith is “evidence of things not seen” (Heb . 11:1), choosing to continue trusting in God’s promises, even when their fulfillment seems distant and uncertain, is surely very pleasing to the Lord .