God is patient with us. Thank goodness He is. Every time we look at ourselves and think that we should be further along in our spiritual walk, when we think we should be well beyond struggling with certain sins, when we think we should know more of who God is, we can fall back on this fact. God is patient with us. He plays the long game as our spiritual Father, knowing that time is, of course, on His side as He molds us into the people He created us to be in Christ.
But God is also patient with the world. Thank goodness He is. Day after day, we see evidences of His common grace all around us. The sun shines, the rain falls, the seasons change – all things live and move and have their being in Him. The earth does not tilt off its axis; the oceans do not rise uncontrollably; and then there are the man-made systems of the public good that have been set up. These are all evidences not only of God’s common grace to us, but also of His patience. For all the while He continues to provide for us in these means of common grace, we still as a world do not acknowledge His power, His love, or His authority. We just keep on living, and God allows the world to do so because He is patient.
God is patient, though, to a greater end. His patience is meant to lead us to repentance:
Do you really think—anyone of you who judges those who do such things yet do the same—that you will escape God’s judgment? Or do you despise the riches of his kindness, restraint, and patience, not recognizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance? (Rom. 2:3-4).
Unfortunately, though, it often doesn’t work that way in our hearts. We make assumptions about God, and in our assumptions we take His patience for other things. Here are three of those other things we might mistake God’s patience for:
We might mistake God’s patience for apathy when it comes either to our sin, or to the state of the world. We might look around and not see any visible evidence of God executing His justice, His wrath, or His discipline and then assume He just doesn’t care about what’s happening. Nothing could be further from the truth. God is not the cosmic clockmaker who just wound the world up and then let it run. Rather, He is intimately involved in the details of everyday life. It is out of His patience, desiring all who are willing to come to repentance, to do so. So when we see evil in the world, we should be very careful not to assume God is apathetic. We should be thankful for His patience instead of critical of His apathy.
We might also mistake God’s patience for leniency. Let’s say that we are involved in a pattern of sin, over and over again, and nothing happens. Now what we might think is, God is being so patient with me. I must trust in the power of the Holy Spirit to keep in the fight because I believe that, by God’s grace, this sin can be conquered in my life.
But we don’t. More likely, when we don’t experience any immediate, tangible evidence of God’s discipline we jump to the assumption that God must be okay with what we are doing. So rather than repentance we simply wash and repeat.
And one final way we might misunderstand God’s patience. We might misunderstand His patience to be forever. That life will always keep going, both at home and around the world, just as it is now. But we should be careful to not assume God’s patience will last forever, because it won’t. There is a limit to that divine patience, and eventually all the wrath and justice stored up behind the dam of that patience will break forth.
Justice will be executed. God will show forth His perfect character. And we would be wise to know it will happen.
God is patient with us, friends, but the right way to respond with patience is not with assumptions. It’s with repentance.