I’ve recently begun re-reading the Acts of the Apostles, a book that I confess I don’t read as often as most of the rest of the New Testament. But it seems that now the time is right. There are two things I read in the very first chapter that I think are worthy of reflection here.
The first is something that I usually don’t like to hear: wait. “Wait for the promise of the Father,” Jesus told his disciples. At that moment He was referring to the Holy Spirit, but for us it can refer to any of the promises of God, or anything we might be waiting for God to do in our lives. The Scriptures, somewhat to my dismay, are always telling me to wait, especially the Psalms. “Wait for the Lord; be strong and let your heart take courage; yea, wait for the Lord!” (26/27); “I waited patiently for the Lord” (39/40); “Wait for God’s help” (41/42). Then there’s “Wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life” (Jude 21); “wait for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1Cor. 1:7), etc.
So we are called to wait. In a sense our whole life is waiting, though not a passive or inert waiting, but an active, attentive waiting for the Lord while at the same time we try to accomplish his works. We just can’t set the timetable but must submit to God’s greater wisdom and vision of what is to come and hence what is best for us.
The disciples weren’t too good at waiting, as we see in this same first chapter of Acts. In their pre-Pentecost condition, they were still not really on the same page as the Lord, even though at this post-resurrection moment, they were past the point of betrayals and total cluelessness. But it’s clear that they still had an agenda on their minds that belonged to the Old and not the New Testament, for, having witnessed Jesus’ triumph over death, they asked Him: “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” They were evidently still holding on to the hope of a political Messiah, even though Jesus had painstakingly tried to instruct them otherwise.
His response to them is the second thing I want to reflect on, and it may cause even more dismay than the first: “It is not for you to know the times or seasons which the Father has fixed by his own authority.” Not for you to know! Could He have said anything that cuts closer to the heart of our inquisitive, controlling, information-gathering generation? Nowadays we can learn almost anything we want to know with a few mouse clicks. And the deeper things, which are more than mere information and hence can’t be searched online, we still think we have a right to know, and now.
But the Lord is telling us something very important here. He’s telling us there are some things we do not have a right to know—at least not at whatever moment we may desire to know them. Some things are fixed by the Father’s own authority and reserved for such time as He chooses to reveal them. This is a lesson in humility for us. We have no right to demand anything from God—not only certain things we may desire, but also the timing of his plans. His will does not have to fit our schedule; He is not obliged to inform of what He is up to every step of the way.
Shortly after I had read that passage, a friend of mine was here on retreat. She has been trying to discern for some time whether her vocation is marriage or religious life, but had not reached any clarity. So, since misery loves company, I read her the above passage—if it’s not for me to know what I’d like to know, then it’s not for her to know what she’d like to know, either! I’m being a bit facetious here; those words of the Lord are actually a kind of consolation. Even though my friend did not immediately receive them with joy, she soon understood that the more we accept the Lord’s way of doing things (or not doing them, as the case may be), the more peace we will have. She didn’t have to worry that there was some wrongdoing on her part that was the reason for her lack of clarity on her vocation; it was simply that at this present moment it was not for her to know the time the Father had fixed by his own authority. When it is time, she will know. (Of course, it is possible that some habitual grave sin could be an obstacle to discerning the Lord’s will, but after talking for a considerable time with her, I judged her to be in good spiritual health, and even extraordinarily faithful for a young woman trying to be a good Catholic amid the heavy pressures of an almost godless society.)
So, when we at times find ourselves a bit impatient with the Lord, or curious as to what He plans to do with us, or what is the next step we are supposed to take, we might have to simply rest in the awareness that it is not for us to know, not right now anyway. When it is time for us to know, we will. We need to humble ourselves and perhaps listen to what the Lord had to tell Job—you know, reminding him that he wasn’t around when God was setting the stars in place and making boundaries for land and sea, etc, and therefore little Job was probably just a tad short on eternal wisdom.
It’s a good reality check for us to realize that there are some things that are just not for us to know. But the Father knows, and all times and seasons are fixed not only by his divine authority, but also by his loving providence, so we can trust Him absolutely. And that blessed fact is for us to know.