Reflection on The Myth of Redemptive Patience: Dr. King and Time
Waiting for liberation is the privilege of the privileged. Those who sit comfortably atop the world’s hierarchy can tell those on the bottom to “wait just a little longer for liberation” because they, themselves, do not have to go home to hungry faces. The privileged can persist in their call for patience because they do not fear whether they will have to choose between paying their heating bill or eating this month.
“Patience is a virtue” is a saying for the privileged; for the oppressed, that saying is an obstacle to their liberation.
Dr. King addressed the myth of patience when he stated unequivocally that one person has no right to set the timetable for another person’s freedom. Time, itself, has no redemptive qualities. Privileged populations are not persuaded to give up their privilege simply because of time. Patience, therefore, means nothing more than delay, at best, or denial, at worst. Indeed, to a community that has experienced a string of broken promises in this nation, the worst is most likely.
For Dr. King, time has no mythical, redemptive qualities. Time cannot, in itself, set injustices right. Injustices are only set right by human beings aligning themselves with God’s will. Conversion of the human heart, then, looks like replacing the myth of time with an understanding of God’s timing.
In biblical imagery, the “end of time” (eschatology) marks a day when God sets all injustices right. All suffering ends and finds redemption, workers of iniquity are judged, and laborers for God’s will are liberated. In the biblical view of the end, every tribe, tongue, nation, and people are gathered around the throne of Jesus. Together, in all our diversity, we fall down before the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.
That’s the end. That’s the hope we live in as Christians.
But how is that end achieved?
Is it achieved because God magically takes people who hate one another and suddenly makes them love one another? Does God, in the blink of an eye, take racists and make them lovers of diversity? Does time, itself, fix the world?
The answer to all of the above is no.
The future imagined in the Bible comes about by people and prophets in the present reaching into the future and dragging it into the present. This is called hope. It is the act of dancing to the song of the future even though we can barely hear it now.
The reason Dr. King did not believe time, itself, would redeem us, the reason he did not think patience would do anything but delay justice, is because he believed that God’s people had a moral and religious obligation to live according to God’s future right now. We are to embody the rule and reign of Jesus, to live into it, to call it forth, to invite its radical ways into the recalcitrant world of stubborn human hearts and entrenched politics.
For Dr. King, justice is nothing short of God’s future being brought to bear on the present. Hope is nothing less than a people who choose to live that revolutionary future in a world that is more comfortable with the status quo. Human progress, says King, never rolls in on the wheels of inevitability. It must be seized as a theological and moral imperative. That’s why the dream Dr. King spoke of neither appealed to patience nor seemed distant and abstract. The dream was always concrete, rooted, political, cultural, social, economic, and physical because God’s future in the Bible was concrete, rooted, political, cultural, social, economic, and physical.
As workers for God’s kingdom, you who work for educational justice through MTR are living in a hope-filled time-warp. You are prophets proclaiming in the present world that the “way things are” do not have to be endured because God is making all things new. You are the forerunners of a future where educational equality is universal and widespread. Your work may seem wearisome, you cannot lose this battle. It has already been won: When Jesus resurrected from the dead, Gods’ future of a universal resurrection of all the saints was pulled into the present. God’s future was initiated, inaugurated, commenced, and started in historical time and space when Jesus came out of that grave. It was not a myth of a cool magic trick, it was God dragging his future into the present, and inviting us to see that even God has grown impatient with injustice. Even God is calling for the liberation of the world right now.
-Rev. Tom Fuerst, Pastor and Author