My wife is in labor as I write this. In a few hours, we’ll finally get to meet our little baby face to face. It’s an exciting time!
But right now, it’s not exactly a pleasant time, especially for her. Every few minutes, her muscles contract violently, causing pain. What’s more, we know that these pains will only increase in intensity and frequency as labor progresses.
Meanwhile, we are waiting with a mixture of anxiety and uncertainty. Anxiety because we don’t know exactly when or how our baby will come. It (we don’t know the baby’s gender yet) could literally come any minute, but labor could also drag on, far into the day. Will it be a smooth delivery like the last one? Will there be complications? All we can do is wait and pray, trusting God that His will is perfect, and that our child will arrive exactly when and how He has ordained.
Uncertainty because we don’t know quite what to do in this in between time. It’s 1:30 in the morning. Should we rest up for the struggle ahead? Should we go for yet another walk around the block? Should we be making last minute preparations we may have overlooked?
How fitting that our Lord used the metaphor of birth pains to describe the signs of the close of the age! In Matthew 24, Jesus’ disciples were asking how they might know the time of His coming. Rather than give a direct answer, he told them things that must happen before the end of the age. There would be apostasy, with false teachers leading many astray. There would be wars, famines, and natural disasters, but these would be “but the beginnings of the birth pains”. In other words, these things would continue to increase in intensity and frequency.
The Old Testament prophets often used a woman’s labor pains to describe intense suffering. Like Jesus himself, Paul also carried this metaphor into the New Testament in reference to the time preceding Christ’s return. In Romans 8, Paul describes all of creation as “groaning together in the pains of childbirth” waiting for the blessings promised at the consummation of history.
What can all this teach us?
First of all, it teaches us that things like disease and natural disasters are not the direct result of specific sins. My wife is not in pain because of a specific sin. Her pain is part of the curse of the Fall, when God sentenced the woman to bring forth children in pain (Genesis 3:16). Similarly, things like earthquakes, tsunamis, and famines are a result of the Fall, when all of creation was subjected to futility (Romans 8:20) because of man’s sin. We are never without an answer to the question “why?” when tragedy strikes, though our knowledge of God’s ways is limited.
Secondly, it teaches us some things about Christ’s return. It should come as no surprise to us that contemplation of “the end times” often results in anxiety and uncertainty. Though Jesus gave us fair warning (Matthew 24:6), we almost can’t help but be alarmed at “wars and rumors of wars”, knowing that these and other trials will continue to escalate. We don’t know exactly when or how our Lord will come. He could come at any moment, or he could continue to delay for the sake of the elect from every people, tribe, nation, and tongue who are yet to believe.
In the meantime, we often don’t know quite what to do in this period between the “already” and the “not yet”. Scripture certainly gives us guidelines for righteous living, but never a specific checklist that tells us exactly what to do!
Finally, it teaches us that anxiety and uncertainty are NOT the proper responses to either our eschatological ruminations or our impending childbirth; hope is! Though Laurie and I don’t look forward to enduring the pain and suffering, we approach it with joy, knowing that very soon we will hold a precious baby in our arms. The momentary affliction of birthing pains is not worth comparing with the joy that will soon be ours! (And before you tell me “that’s easy for you to say, Dad”, let me refer you to Jeremiah 30:6, where men experienced pain like a woman in labor! Okay, I might be prooftexting a bit here, but hang with me…)
In the same way, Paul assures us that “the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18). They are merely preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond comparison (2 Corinthians 4:17)! Jesus’ own brother exhorted us to “count it all joy” when we meet trials, because this testing prepares us for perfection (James 1:2-4).
A Christian’s joy is found in the hope of Christ’s return! We don’t need to know all the details in advance (indeed, we cannot). We need only to watch and pray, trusting God that His will is perfect, and that our Lord will arrive exactly when and how He has ordained. Soon, we will finally get to meet our Savior face to face (1 Corinthians 13:12). This is an exciting time!
But for now, I think I’m going to lay down to get some rest after all. We hope to have joyful news of a new baby to share with you very soon… unless the Lord returns first!