7 He revealed His ways to Moses, His deeds to the people of Israel. 8 The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and rich in faithful love. 9 He will not always accuse us or be angry forever. 10 He has not dealt with us as our sins deserve or repaid us according to our offenses. 11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His faithful love toward those who fear Him. 12 As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us. - Psalm 103:7-12
My own impatience with God’s patience might be one of the defining features of my life. I become worried and anxious when I see false teaching in the church, spanning from the prosperity gospel to modern gnostic heresies. I dwell on the strife in our midst, our continued struggle for racial reconciliation and wholeness. Why, I ask, does God allow this disorder to persist?
At its core, the Cross is a sign of the patience of God. He has passed over our sins, rather than condemning us as we deserve (Rom 3:25). In fact, patience is linguistically and conceptually linked to passion (passio). In the passion of Jesus Christ on the Cross we see the concrete patience of our triune God incarnate in history.
When local congregations were tempted to licentious living by false teachers who taught them that Christ would not return, Peter reminded them:
But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. (2 Pet. 3:8–9)
Because God is merciful, he waits. He will not bring about the judgment of the last days until the gospel has been preached to all nations (Matt. 24:14). And so, as Hermann Cremer put it, “The history of the world moves forward under the patience of God” proved in the passion of Jesus Christ.
But Christ did not patiently endure the Cross only to bring the world into the church. He also aimed to sanctify the church in the midst of the world (1 Pet. 2:24). In his own time, Christ will keep his promises to render his church spotless and radiant despite all outward appearances (Eph. 5:25–27).
Derek Rishmawy is a doctoral student in systematic theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.