Who can fathom the patience of God?
By Don Ruhl
James and John did not like such treatment of their Lord. They questioned Jesus, “Lord, do You want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them, just as Elijah did?”
Jesus turned to them and rebuked them, “You do not know what manner of spirit you are of. For the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives but to save them,” showing the vast difference between the impatience of man and the patience of God (Luke 9.51–56).
Do you want James and John to judge you or Jesus? God is patient with the human race, although His patience is not infinite as His other attributes.
His patience seems to go on forever, at least much longer than ours, because He wants to work with man, knowing that many will turn to Him, but He also knows when the human race will no longer repent. Therefore, while His patience goes on and on, He eventually has to stop man from his sinful and destructive ways. Then the longsuffering God can no longer suffer with man.
Hear God’s Patience Declared
Moses requested of God, “Please, show me Your glory” (Exo 33.18). God promised to grant the request, but Moses had to be protected from God’s glory, lest it kill Moses (Exo 33.19–23). God also told Moses that when he saw God’s glory, God would make a proclamation. Then it happened,
Now the LORD descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the LORD. And the LORD passed before him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children’s children to the third and the fourth generation.” So Moses made haste and bowed his head toward the earth, and worshiped (Exo 34.5–8).
Part of what makes the glory of God overwhelming for a man is the patience of God (verse 6). God’s abundant patience makes Him glorious, makes Him glow, so much so that man cannot endure God’s presence.
In Psalm 103 David displayed the nature of God’s patience. David did not use the word “patience,” but you will see it in what he says about Moses and Israel. Recalling the experience of Moses, David sang,
He made known His ways to Moses,
His acts to the children of Israel.
The LORD is merciful and gracious,
Slow to anger, and abounding in mercy.
(Psa 103.7, 8)
God’s forgiveness and mercy show His patience,
He will not always strive with us,
Nor will He keep His anger forever.
He has not dealt with us according to our sins,
Nor punished us according to our iniquities.
For as the heavens are high above the earth,
So great is His mercy toward those who fear Him;
As far as the east is from the west,
So far has He removed our transgressions from us.
Then David stated what moves God to be patient with us,
As a father pities his children,
So the LORD pities those who fear Him.
For He knows our frame;
He remembers that we are dust.
(Psa 103.13, 14)
Likewise, let us be patient with one another for the same reasons, that is, that every person is a creation of God and that every person is dust.
See God’s Patience
See God’s patience with the Amorites. In Genesis 15 God appeared to Abraham, promising to bring his biological descendants to the Land of Canaan. Why did God wait? The current inhabitants had not reached the fullness of their sin, “But in the fourth generation they shall return here, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete” (Gen 15.16). The time from Abraham to Joshua, when God finally did bring Israel into the Land of Canaan, was between 400 and 500 years!
See God’s patience with Noah’s generation. In First Peter 3 the apostle referenced “the Divine longsuffering,” that, “waited in the days of Noah” (1Pe 3.20). We know that from the decree to destroy the world with a flood to the time that He carried it out was 120 years. During that time Genesis 6 says, “the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually…The earth also was corrupt before God, and the earth was filled with violence” (Gen 6.5, 11). Would you have waited 120 years?
See God’s patience with the present generation. What is the story of man’s spiritual condition from Adam and Eve to our time? What is the story of man’s spiritual condition today? What is the story of your spiritual condition? Yet, the world still exists. You and I still exist.
You and the Patience of God
Do not abuse God’s patience, but see it for what it is. Second Peter 3 shows how we should not treat God’s patience and how we should treat it, “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2Pe 3.9).
Some think God’s patience or longsuffering means He is slack. We should view God’s patience as Him giving us time to repent. A few verses later Peter said, “consider that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation” (2Pe 3.15).
Isaiah said it like this, “Therefore the LORD will wait, that He may be gracious to you…” (Isa 30.18).
While God’s patience far exceeds ours, it will not always be available. Eventually Noah’s generation saw the judgment of God. Finally the Amorites disappeared from the Land of Canaan. Many fell during the wilderness wanderings.
God is patient, but Nahum 1 shows, that is not all he is. Nahum said the Lord is slow to anger, but the prophet also said, the Lord “will not at all acquit the wicked.” The prophet questioned, “who can endure the fierceness of His anger?”
Do not let what was said about Judah be said about you. Second Chronicles 36 shows the patience of God toward Judah, but it also shows that His patience does not last forever. He did everything possible to turn Judah from sin. However, they refused everything He did. They reached the point of no return, “And the LORD God of their fathers sent warnings to them by His messengers, rising up early and sending them, because He had compassion on His people and on His dwelling place. But they mocked the messengers of God, despised His words, and scoffed at His prophets, until the wrath of the LORD arose against His people, till there was no remedy” (2Ch 36.15, 16).
Therefore, I urge you to do what a prophet once said, “Seek the LORD while He may be found, call upon Him while He is near” (Isa 55.6, 7).
Think of how far He went to persuade you to turn to Him, sending His Own Son to die in your place. Does that not say volumes about His patience and love toward you?
To say that God is longsuffering is to say that God suffers long. While we wait, God suffers in the spirit. We make God suffer. You can turn His suffering into magnificent joy by becoming one of His children.