God is Patient
by Sarah Wootten
When we describe someone as “patient,” we generally mean that someone is good at waiting. Whether a person is waiting on Christmas break or waiting through a difficult season, we most often use the word “patient” to describe contentment while waiting. However, when we describe God as being patient, we mean a whole lot more than that.
Patient. Forbearing. Longsuffering. Slow to anger. These are all terms that the Bible uses to describe the patience of God.
The prophet Jonah understood this. God told Jonah to go to the city of Nineveh. Jonah was to tell them to repent of their evil ways or God’s wrath would soon come upon them. Jonah, however, did not want to go. Instead, he tried to flee from the presence of God and bought a ticket to Tarshish. After a storm, throwing a man overboard, a disgusting incident with a large fish, and a prayer of repentance, God put Jonah exactly where He wanted him to be – in the city of Nineveh. The Ninevites were infamous for their cruelty, but after Jonah preached God’s message throughout the city, the Ninevites repented and believed in God. The city was not destroyed.
After Jonah realized that Nineveh was not going to be destroyed, Jonah was mad. Why would Jonah be angry? Jonah told God, “That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster. Therefore now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live,” (Jonah 4:2-3, ESV). Jonah did not want to go to Nineveh because he understood the character of God. He knew that if the Ninevites repented, God would forgive them of all their wicked ways.
Or take the example of Noah and the flood. 1 Peter 3:20 tells us that while Noah was building the ark (which likely took decades to complete), God was patiently waiting, giving men the opportunity to repent. Of course, none of them did, and all were destroyed in the flood, other than Noah’s family. But if any of them had repented, we know that God would have forgiven them because God is merciful, gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.
You may have noticed a theme in both Jonah’s story and Noah’s story. Why was God patient in both of those instances? To give an opportunity for repentance. Romans 2:4 tells us that God’s forbearance, patience, and kindness is meant to lead us to repentance. What a loving God! He would be just in punishing us immediately for our sin, and yet, He forbears with us to give us an opportunity to repent. This is great news.
We must also realize that one day, the season of God’s patience towards rebellious sinners will be over. God is holy, and sin must be punished. Just as the day came where the flood waters burst forth and destroyed all of humanity except Noah’s family, so too God’s forbearance with sinners will come to an end. A day is coming “when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed,” (Romans 2:5, ESV). For followers of Christ, that punishment has already been poured out on Jesus. There is no wrath left for you. But for those who deny Christ, that punishment still awaits. So don’t presume upon God’s patience and say “Tomorrow, I will repent and follow Christ.” That is foolish because tomorrow may be too late.