God’s patience is a troubling issue for Christians and non-Christians alike. Why does he not come and clean up the mess that the world is in? Why does he not come now?
I have just finished scanning my way through this morning’s newspaper. There are all the troubling signs of God’s patience with humanity.
There are the interminable international and civil wars that are reported from Lebanon, Afghanistan, Iraq and Timor. But within those wars there are terrible acts of senseless brutality like the children blown up at a soccer match in Iraq. What kind of evil monsters hide explosives in sports bags near children at a football match?
But we do not have to go overseas into war zones to see the problem with God’s patience. There is the report of the lecturing staff at the police academy using their position to gain sexual favours from recruits. There is the corruption of our medical services by the bribery of doctors by the pharmaceutical industry. There is over two years of racial abuse experienced in the workplace by an Australian Lebanese worker. There is the tragic case of the estranged couple fighting over access to the children.
The list does not include political backstabbing and power plays, nor the issues of ecology or policy arguments over corruption, nor the endless immoralities of the so-called entertainment industry, nor the degenerate behaviour of the so-called sporting heroes. It also does not assume that any of these stories are accurate – it is a newspaper that I was scanning.
Yet as we read of the nature of humanity in the daily affairs of our city, nation and world – we are confronted with the problem of God’s patience. Why does he allow the evil of this world to continue? How can he tolerate the pain and suffering that so many of his creatures are enduring? Why does he not stop the corruption of our society and bring righteousness to rule? How is he using wars and violence to bring about his plans?
It is the kind of Job struggle that the innocent seem to suffer and the guilty seem to prosper in a world created and ruled by a righteous judge.
The Bible does not shy away from hard questions like these. In fact much of the Bible is exactly about these questions. The prophecy of Habakkuk asks these very questions, and the letter to the Christians in Rome in part answers them.
For God’s patience is an expression of his anger and his love.
It is an expression of his anger in that he is slow to anger. His is a righteous and just anger, not temperamental or impulsive like ours. Based on the facts and with ample time for repentance and correction, God’s anger will come upon us when nobody will be able to deny he is right and just to punish.
But his patience is also an expression of his love. For God does not desire that death of a sinner but that he would repent and live. (2 Peter 3:9) So God’s patience is meant to lead us to repentance. (Romans 2:4) He is not slow about his promised judgement but is giving us time to repent and find forgiveness. So we are to “count the patience of the Lord as salvation” (2 Peter 3:15) and not to presume upon God’s patience by refusing to repent (Romans 2:4-5).
For in God’s good timing he sent his son into this world to save sinners. We are now to wait with eager patience for his return. “Christ having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him” (Hebrews 9:28).