Up and Away: Why It Is Good that Christ Departed
In recent years there has been a lot of talk about America as an impatient nation. We're in a hurry: we eat fast food, speed date, use self-checkout lines, access movies and TV shows via Netflix and Hulu, use abbreviations in text messages, and read more blogs and fewer books. We have gadgets and apps that immediately give us what we want—now! When it comes to waiting, as a viral video says, "Ain't nobody got time for that."
While a lot of people criticize our culture's impatience—indeed, there is much to lament about this cultural tendency—not everyone sees it as a disease that needs to be cured. In his 2010 NPR article "Impatient Nation: I Can't Wait for You to Read This," Linton Weeks classifies impatience as a virtue:
Impatience isn't always a bad thing. Sure, it can be the sign of a troubled mind. … But impatience can also be the sign of a healthy mind: Wired magazine lists impatience as a desirable characteristic in the "X-factor" that leads to success. Some of our most revered leaders are impatient people. Bill and Melinda Gates describe themselves as impatient optimists. … Impatience can be a virtue. [America's] Founding Fathers were an impatient lot. In an 1822 letter, John Adams described the writing of the Declaration of Independence: "We were all in haste," he said of the drafting committee, which included Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin. "Congress was impatient."
In other words, impatience not only causes us to get things done; it is often coupled with the optimistic thought of what could be. Impatience drives us to turn possibilities into realities. It's not simply a feeling of irritation with something that causes delay. It's a restless desire for change.
Change—isn't that what the gospel is all about? The gospel tells us that many of our longings for change are satisfied now. We don't have to wait. Forgiveness of sin is a reality—now! New life in the Spirit is a reality—now! Reconciliation with others is a reality—now!
But as much as I'd like to agree with Weeks—that impatience is a virtue and that imprudence is the real problem—I think impatience is only a quasi virtue. Patience, we're taught in Scripture, is a fruit of the Spirit—a mark of God's very character. The gospel tells us that while some of our longings are certainly satisfied now, others will be satisfied later. We're told to be patient and to trust in God. Theologians call this tension the "now-and-not-yet" reality, one in which our thirst is satisfied, but not fully. We experience salvation and its many benefits now, but we await its full reality—the resurrection of our bodies and uninhibited communion with our Triune God. We can have some things now, but for other things we have to wait. And no Christian doctrine speaks to our immediate satisfaction and our anticipation quite like the doctrine of the Ascension.
Not an Appendix
The Ascension is often underrated and undervalued by evangelicals. We make a big deal of Christ's coming at Christmas, celebrating with gifts, baked goods, and carols. With solemn services we mourn his horrific death on Good Friday. And with exuberant celebration, we rejoice in his Resurrection on Easter Sunday, with glorious services, extravagant bouquets of flowers, Easter eggs, and big hunks of glazed ham. But to Christ's farewell we give very little attention—if any at all.