Yesterday I opened this series with a discussion of us, but let’s dig in on 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 substituting God anywhere the word Love is used. Today is about everyone’s favorite subject: patience.
1 Corinthians 13:4 launches with “Love is patient”, and I imagine the reason Paul started here is that even in that day patience as not a virtue we were terribly pleased to develop. The idea of waiting, of burning time we can never get back is just not our bag. But Love is said to be patient, and God is Love, so…
God is patient
The original word Paul used in the verse, μακροθνμέω, makrothumeo, (which is really fun to say; try it) is usually translated “long-suffering”. Its roots are the words makros (“long-lasting” or “far away”), thumos (literally “the result of being immolated (sacrificed in fire)”), and –eo (“to be made of”), so the word literally means “to be made of the long-lasting result of being immolated”. Yeah, I can see suffering in being burned alive, can’t you? To have patience, then, is to be made of long-lasting suffering, to be wounded constantly and not yield (to death, or, by extension anger, wrath, or brokenness), right?
If we think about it we’re actually pretty scared that’s true of God — that His suffering is long-lasting. Long is a measure: it has a start and an end. It is finite. How scary an idea that His patience has an end. We’re constantly wounding Him with our foibles, so “long” means it’s over at some point, that He’s then done with suffering our slings. Most of our “what if?” scenarios about God revolve around “what if He’s at the end of His rope with me?” What if, like Sodom and Gemorrah, He’s just had it with my nonsense? What if, like Lot’s wife, I’ve made my final trespass? What if, like Uzza, I’ve incurred the Lord’s anger through my careless actions? What if, like Ananias and Sapphira, I’ve lied the last lie He’s willing to tolerate? What if, like Job’s kids, He’s going to allow me to be killed as an example to someone else? What if, like Judas, He is going to allow my greed to kill me? What if, like the Pharisees, He is just done with my arrogance?
Oh, how much fire-and-brimstone, furious-God preaching has been borne of the paranoia inspired by these stories. But what good is God’s patience if it ends? Particularly when we can’t know where it ends? Doesn’t that make Him arbitrary, unknowable, unpredictable, and to be feared (as in terror not as in awe)? How can we trust that our sins are forgiven if His patience is just “long“?
In Matthew 18 Peter asks Christ (I’m paraphrasing) “how many times should I forgive someone who wounds me?” The Living Word replies “I say not unto thee, ‘Until seven times’: but, ‘Until seventy times seven’.” Scholars have bantered about the holiness of the number 7 and the symbolic importance of the number 70 and what numerologic magic Christ was invoking here, but what matters is that whether Christ meant infinite times or 490 times or some magical incantation of times His point was that you should forgive beyond your ability to keep track. Not “until you don’t feel like it”, not “until you think better of it”, not “until your grudge is justified”. No, we are told that we should have a limitlessly forgiving heart. Now if the bar set for us is so high, would our Father have a lower threshold? Wouldn’t that make Him a judgemental hypocrite?
Of course it would. Just like not knowing where His limits are would make Him cruel. But we carry that definition inside us because we make sense of Him by equating Him to a human and presuming that, like us, He is indeterminate, random, and vacilating. But that’s just garbage; it’s not true. Hebrews 13:8 states unequivocally that Jesus (God) remains the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. I think we tend to accept Jesus is static, but God we assume is chaotic. Bible scholars and pastors have furthered this schism with talk of dispensations; the idea that God behaves differently and gives different rules at different times. I get the reasoning, but they have skewed God and obscured Him from millions of people who now think He can’t be trusted because He can’t be understood. He can. He can be known. He can be known through His Word and through His Spirit.
Jesus said to forgive eternally because His Father forgives eternally. God forgives beyond His own ability to measure. My earlier definition is misleading because I wanted to make that point: long-suffering does not denote an end. Rather, it says that at the end of the pain — not the end of the willingness to be in pain, but the end of the pain — when you look back, you bore it without malice. Because you cannot be called patient in the process of suffering; you need the full scope of it behind you in order to say how you bore it. When you’ve been severely burned the question of your ability to deal with suffering is answered only at the end of your life because nowhere inside of life does it end, which is why the word makrothumeo is rooted in the scenario it came from: it is the perfect picture of what we’re taking about. It is now, and it was in antiquity.
God is long-suffering — patient — because He is the Omega, and at the end of this life He still Loves us, still forgives us, still bears us up. The truth is that we don’t really understand exactly what happened to people like Lot’s wife; He forgives far beyond our ability to simply stumble across that limit so whatever happened to them cannot be solved because the men who wrote the words were making a point about obedience, not punishment. They intended you to read for benefit, not full explanation. We have stitched in erroneous information — that God behaves impatiently — because we want to make the stories tidy and complete, but it’s not true. We just don’t know what happened to people like Uzzah because we just don’t have the specifics because they just don’t matter. We’d misuse the information if we had it.
You can put the “what if?” to rest: God is not on the verge of being through putting up with you, and He never will be. He Loves you. He will wait for you to make your way to Him regardless how long it takes or how many times you hurt Him. You’re nowhere near the edge of His patience, so don’t concern yourself with whether or not you can actually reach it or become the next Sapphira. Be thankful and grateful that He draws you nearer Him and let the “what if?” fade. Quit seeking His punishment and look Him in the heart, accept the Love He offers. Seek His Love.
He stands patiently waiting for your heart. He stands patiently as His heart breaks for your hurt, your mistrust, your struggle. He stands right by your side through every moment, patiently enduring with you and holding you up as much as you’ll allow. My hope is tomorrow’s post will help with that, so stay tuned!
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