“How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I bear pain in my soul, and have sorrow in my heart all day long? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?” (Psalm 13:1,2)

“The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).

I first learned the word “dilatory” when I worked in a law firm in the late ‘70s. It means “given to or causing delay,” and comes from a late Latin word for “defer” (that is, to a later time). Synonyms or related terms might be “slothful,” “lazy,” and “passive-aggressive.” Dilatory lawyers are usually the latter, dragging out cases forever, “forgetting” to file papers, and the like. Being dilatory is a strategy for control and the retention of power.

Recently I’ve encountered a good many instances of dilatoriness. Like the cable company that told me it would take 8-10 weeks to get a little refund check, because “it had to come from corporate.” What, I wondered, was “corporate” doing that it took that long to process a single check? My answer ultimately was that they were delaying because they could. The company has a monopoly in its market. (In fairness, it actually took only a little over a week for the check to arrive.)

Then there is the road construction crew that has been building a bypass around Centreville, AL for as long as I can recall. Not just months, but years to complete a few miles of highway. Why so long? Before that, it took at least a decade for other portions of Highway 82 in AL and MS. Again, why so long? Is it funding? Is it permits? Is it that the crews aren’t really working? I don’t get it, but then I know nothing about building highways, so maybe years is simply how long it takes.

During the same time I was dealing with the cable company and contemplating the slow progress on the AL bypass, I began reading Thomas Friedman and Michael Mandelbaum’s book That Used To Be Us. They start by contrasting a project in China and one in Washington, DC. “It took China’s Tela Construction Group thirty-two weeks to build a world-class convention center from the ground up—including giant escalators in every corner—and it was taking the Washington Metro crew twenty-four weeks to repair two tiny escalators of twenty-one steps each” (4).  The repairs to the escalators, which had been terribly neglected in recent years, were causing big delays for commuters. Why could China build a huge structure in only two months longer than an American crew could repair the two escalators in Washington? The thing was, no one was asking why the maintenance took so long. People were simply used to it (5).

We ought to be concerned about the slowness of work on highways and other infrastructure and complain when customer service is unresponsive and drags out simple functions like sending a rebate or a refund. But there is a larger issue that the scriptures I cited above raise or seek to deal with. It’s the dilatoriness of God.

Why is God so slow? Whyfor thousands of years has he let drag on, and indeed increase, injustice and wickedness and greed and all manner of terrible things from the atrocities of individuals, groups, and nations to the bullying of kids on Facebook or the schoolyard to the hurts we perpetrate on each other daily? What exactly does he do all day? Is he dilatory in the manner and for the reason of the lawyers I mentioned: to demonstrate his power, to keep us under his thumb? Is he reminding us who’s boss? Or is he impotent and ineffective? Could he be otherwise occupied with problems in the Andromeda galaxy instead of with our little planet and our tiny lives?

These are questions people have been asking for a very long time, and there have been no answers, other than the sorts of things that people like the author of 2 Peter have said, which strike me as not helpful. In fact, I’m more likely to get an answer for why the Centreville bypass is taking so long than I am to get clarity on the theological issues I and so many others have posed.

If I were you, and you have the same questions, I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for a response. It will take an eternity.

© 2012 Tom Cheatham. All rights reserved.