Who is more long-suffering than God?
In the course of history, God has not been the vengeful, quick-to-punish deity he is sometimes made out to be. He held back his wrath regularly as he waited for his people to turn from their wickedness in the Old Testament. He waits ever still for more to come and rest in the mercy and grace of Jesus Christ as he calls them home.
Considering how quickly our society moves today, I don’t think we can fathom what it’s like to wait, let alone wait for someone to turn away from evil. How often would God’s prophets plead with his people to return to the Father and give up their idols. Some pleaded even as they we’re killed for their troubles. In the New Testament, Jesus Christ himself lamented over God’s own when he said:
“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!”
–Luke 13:34 (ESV)
As a father of two boys (well, one young man in his twenties and the other younger man just now a teenager), I see the fruit of my mistakes in not applying long-suffering to my “methods” of discipline, if you could call them that. I thought discipline had to hit hard, be firm, and unrelenting. I know that there are those who with fondness recall firm punishment from their parents and recognize the love that went into it and that’s cool. For me, personally, I didn’t have that. Oh, I was punished at times and I was fearful, but it wasn’t because of what happened, but the threat of what would or could happen. Both my kids are much like I was in that they were/are not really bad, disobedient kids, but every once in a while they need correction.
While my previous method was yelling and screaming and just taking things away. I just can’t do that anymore. In light of Christ and his death, I see a sinner, me, trying to encourage other sinners, my children, away from even more sin. This is what God has always done for his own. He pleaded with them to turn from their wickedness, holding back punishment from his people in the hope he would not have to. Even then, he would provide over and again opportunities to return to him. A loving parent never wants to give up on his child even when everyone says, “Give up, let him go,” and even criticizes the father himself for continuing to plead and help his child who may be in need.
A recent Sunday school lesson at my church asked, “What do you live for?” Do you need to be known as a respected parent, a good spouse, a great boss? Do you need your ducks to be all in a row and kids to be perfectly behaved, or you’re a failure? Or do you want to live in a manner that hopefully continues to reflect Christ, more and more? I say hopefully, because while it is something to strive for, it will not be perfectly realized until we are in glory with the Father. We don’t make it an unrealistic goal. We don’t make it the main thing and if we do, we are setting ourselves up to fail.
We want it because of all Christ has done for us at the cross. Not for “changing us” and making our lives “better,” but for saving us and rescuing us from the penalty of sin and death. Now, we as sinners, who God IS conforming to the image of his Son, have people in our lives. Co-workers, family members, neighbors, and other people we come into contact with regularly, are placed before us, challenging us with opportunities to react differently. To allow that conforming process to be worked out in us, in practical ways. I’m not advocating for “letting our very lives preach the Gospel,” but letting the Gospel be preached into our lives, our reactions, our behaviors. It’s about us being changed by all that God has done for us. Change is not the main thing, but the main thing, the Gospel, will affect us if we let it.
One of the fruits of the Spirit is long-suffering. It’s not just defined as patience, but patience in the midst of trouble. It’s not waiting online at the DMV (no matter what you say) and it’s not sitting in a crowded doctor’s office. It’s holding back when there is something that is coming against you and everything in you wants to react and lash out, even if it’s for the right reason! God does MORE than display that kind of patience to us. At the same time he is holding back a reaction that is probably well-deserved and validated. He says, “Please repent and let me love and care for you.” He is both holding back righteous judgment and desiring to give mercy and grace to you. To coin a phrase that has been coined many times over when speaking about God’s grace, it truly is amazing.
This is my hope for the rest of my life. I don’t expect perfect execution. I will have to repent over and again for sure. I know I’ve wronged people before and probably will again. I hope my attitude is different as I consider the desire to reflect Christ more in my actions towards others. Even more than that, my hope is that I can help my younger son understand how much I don’t want to punish him when he does wrong, giving him the choice to correct it before I have to. I hope someday, I can help my older son understand that as well.
I have been a fool.
I am still a fool.
My hope is that I become more a fool for Christ than I am for self.