How long is a piece of string? When we go into the garage and ask how long it will take to fix the car – we don’t expect that answer. We don’t expect the mechanic to shrug his shoulders and say – how long is a piece of string? When we put an order in to Amazon we don’t expect that answer. We don’t expect an email saying we will deliver when they get to the end of piece of string. Yet when we talk to a doctor or a minister or even a politician we often get that answer. How long is a piece of string?
Because the unvarnished truth is that often the most important questions we have, begs that answer. Put more bluntly still, our key questions in life have no answer here on earth.
This was also the point by David in his psalm. It starts with that yearning even distraught question – how long O Lord? Moreover, it is amplified in its dismay by the next questions how long will you forget me and hide from me? He concludes his dismal interrogation by seeking a time-line for his thoughts and sorrows and defeats. David then is asking a ‘how long is a piece of string ‘question and in return what did hear? – silence.
Here then is the time honoured conundrum. Since with the events of the last few weeks in mind we can sympathize with David. With the terrible fire in London scarred into our memories, we too can ask the same set of questions as David. More to the point, with so much trouble around, we are equally unable to accept the answer of how long is a piece of string? Indeed, we find the silence to be – unbearable.
Have you noticed that as you get older, time seems to go more quickly? Our perception of time also differs depending on whether we are waiting for a bus on a bitterly cold day or watching our favourite telly programme. In fact, Einstein’s theories tell us that time does go past quicker on the space station than it does down here. Or, in simplistic terms, our heads are older than our feet.
This also answers questions of string lengths. For time is an entirely different thing for God. It his creation and his tool. He stands outside it and so he controls it. Therefore, he does know the length of every piece of string, of every human life and every joy and tribulation. It’s just that we cannot perceive it or understand it or command it – we just must take it on trust.
David too came to the same conclusion. He came to rely on God’s unfailing love alone to put the twinkle back in his eye, bring victory to his efforts and rejoicing in his heart. Ultimately, he came to rely on God’s own time and not his own. Because he knew that to be not the good time or better time but the right time.
My step-father’s aunt did wonderful tapestry. In all honesty, the reverse was as beautifully sewn as the front. But it is not always the case. For frequently, when we see the back of some great work of art it looks, politely, a bit of a mess. Yet when we turn it round our breath is still taken away at what we could not see before. And so, we are stunned by the bigger, better and truer picture.
If then in this week you like David are challenged by imponderable questions, let us pray we can have faith like David. On this day, when our nation seems to have multitudinous questions, may we all have patience to trust in an answer. And in this moment, across our globe we hear continually questions of how long? But to each we must say – I cannot answer – but God knows. Because God’s time should always be our favourite and favoured time. Because, God does know the length of every piece of string!