The Misunderstood Patience of God (19:5)

Sometimes this patience of God has been misunderstood. Some think we can go on sinning with impunity because God is simply too kind and too patient to discipline us or to turn us over to destructive consequences. Paul warned that presuming on the kindness of God is a serious error: “Are you, perhaps, misinterpreting God’s generosity and patient mercy towards you as weakness on his part? Don’t you realise [sic] that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?” Romans 2:4, Phillips.

God’s patience has even puzzled His trusting children. In the days of Habakkuk, they cried out to God, “Why don’t You do something? Why don’t You rescue us and help us in our predicament?” They were in despair that God seemed to be doing nothing (all based on Habakkuk 1:1-4, 13). And so the prophet Habakkuk was sent to urge them not to give up their faith, but to trust God to work out His plans in His own good time (Hab 2:1-4). The problem, according to Micah, is that we often don’t understand God’s plan (Mic 4:12). Let us trust Him as we seek to understand His plan, and let Him do it in His own time and in His own way.

The prophet Habakkuk sums up his message by saying: “[What God has planned] may seem slow in coming, but wait for it; it will certainly take place.” Hab 2:3, GNB. In fact, God’s first message to Habakkuk was, “I am doing something, but you wouldn’t believe it if I told you” (based on Habakkuk 1:5). Habakkuk said, “Try me, Lord. Tell me” (based on Habakkuk 2:1). And the Lord did (Hab 2:2-4). Habakkuk then indicated that he was willing to wait. That’s the source of that great verse, “The just, God’s friends, will live in faith, in trust” (based on Habakkuk 2:4). That verse was not about forgiveness. It was written about trusting God enough to be willing to wait. That great verse that Paul picked up in Romans is a most appropriate one for those who wonder why the Lord still waits.

In these last days, God’s patience even gives His enemies an opportunity to misinterpret it as weakness. They scoff at God’s apparent inability to bring the conflict to a successful conclusion. This issue is addressed in the whole of 2 Peter 3. Peter warns that:

In the last days there will come men who scoff at religion and live self-indulgent lives, and they will say: “Where now is the promise of his coming? Our fathers have been laid to their rest, but still everything continues as it has always been since the world began.” 2 Pet 3:3-4, NEB.

Doesn’t that sound like the doctrine of uniformitarianism? Nothing has ever changed and nothing ever will. But that is not the real reason for the delay:

It is not that the Lord is slow in fulfilling his promise, as some suppose, but that he is very patient with you, because it is not his will for any to be lost, but for all to come to repentance. 2 Pet 3:9, NEB.

Then Peter refers to Paul’s earlier advice in Romans 2:4: “Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you.” 2 Pet 3:15, NIV. God’s patience is often misunderstood.

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