God’s Perspective on Time
When we ask, 'How long, Lord?': A study in Psalm 90
For nearly 20 years Al Janssen worked closely with Brother Andrew, the Founder of Open Doors. Together they traveled to Muslim countries, wrote six books, met with political leaders and spoke to ministry donors. This blog tells the story of their friendship and some of the many lessons Al learned from this beloved mission leader.
Surely there had been enough suffering on both sides.
Brother Andrew and I traveled several times to Gaza. That was always a harrowing experience, especially navigating our way through the Erez border crossing.
One of our trips occurred during the second The Palestinian uprising against Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, beginning in 1987.. We were housed in a vacant missionary apartment next to the Anglican hospital in Gaza City. As I unpacked, I heard a loud explosion. I raced onto the balcony and saw a military helicopter flying back into Israel, leaving a pillar of black smoke curling up from a building about a mile away. Several of my neighbors were milling outside the apartment building.
“Welcome to Gaza!” one of them shouted up to me.
I learned later that day that two Palestinian militants were killed in the attack.
One night later, sounds of gunfire reverberated through nearby streets. The emergency room of the hospital next door was busy all night. With few operational ambulances in the strip, patients were delivered by private cars, most of them falling apart because of the pot-holed streets and a shortage of replacement parts. About 2 in the morning, one of those jalopies raced into the hospital entryway and screeched to a halt. Two men jumped out, opened the rear doors, grabbed the arms and legs of a woman, and yelling in Arabic carted her into the ER.
Ten minutes later, one of the men emerged screaming and kicked his car. I didn’t need to understand Arabic to realize that the woman, probably his wife, had died. His friend came right behind him and put a hand on him to try and calm him, but it was no good. The distraught husband would not be consoled.
I would learn later that 11 Palestinians had died in fighting that night. Anger and grief permeated the city. It was on the verge of an explosion. How long, I wondered, could this last? This conflict had raged since before Israel became a nation in 1948. Surely there had been enough suffering on both sides.
I sat in the hotel living room as the sun rose and opened my Bible to the Psalms. It has been my custom to pray through one or more psalms daily. This morning, my bookmark was at Psalm 90. Verse 4 stopped me: “For a thousand years in your sight are but as yesterday when it is past, or as a watch in the night.”
I opened my journal that I always travel with to capture observations, experiences, and insights from Scripture. I was scribbling a little math as Brother Andrew emerged from his room.
“Water is hot in the kitchen,” I said.
As he opened a package of instant coffee and mixed his first cup of the day, he asked me what God was saying to me this morning (as he always did when we were together).
“I haven’t slept all night,” I admitted. “There was so much commotion coming from next door at the hospital. So much suffering. I’ve been thinking about how long this conflict has raged, and I think God has just given me His perspective, in Psalm 90.”
Andrew sat down opposite me and encouraged me to continue. I read to him Psalm 90:4, and then said, “I just did some math. A thousand years equals one day in God’s sight. Or a watch in the night, which is three hours. Well, that means that in God’s time, this conflict since the birth of Israel in 1948 has lasted …”
“How long?” he said.
“Maybe 15 minutes.”
We both sat in silence for a few moments. Then Brother Andrew expressed what I was thinking: “I don’t think that’s any comfort right now to our Christian friends here in Gaza.”
“No,” I agreed. “But it does put things in perspective. We think the suffering has gone on far too long. But God’s view on time is very different than ours.”
Photo: Brother Andrew enters Gaza on one of our trips.
Read the first four posts in this weekly series: