#58 THE PATIENCE OF GOD

It seems a very long time since Jesus Christ promised to return. This apparent delay in the return of Christ does not indicate a weakness in this promise, but is rather evidence of the power and persistence of God’s grace.

Peter makes the following points:

God’s relationship with time is different from ours – verse 8

Peter’s statement in verse 8 is not meant to be understood in a strict literal manner. The statement itself excludes a literal interpretation. Peter’s point is that time – days, years – doesn’t mean the same to God as it does to us.

God, the great ‘I AM’ of Exodus 3, is eternal and infinite. Unlike us, he is not limited or determined by either time or space. In fact he created ‘time’ when he established the physical and mechanistic aspects of the universe.

Although God’s self-revelation has occurred in the context of time – in the history of Israel and in the incarnation of Christ – God himself exists outside of time. He is eternal – the ever-living one, undefined by time and unmeasured by time. Without beginning. Without ending.

The sceptical people Peter mentions had looked at time, and interpreted and judged God on the basis of time. What we should do is look at God, and interpret the passing of time from God’s perspective. Time does not determine what God is able or not able to do. Rather God determines what he will do with time.

God’s purpose in delaying the return of Christ – verses 9, 15

God is incredibly patient, far more patient than we can ever imagine. Time and again biblical history has demonstrated this patience of God. For example:

God, in perfect justice, could have terminated the human race in Genesis 3, but in his grace he permitted us to continue to live [Genesis 2:17; 3:1-24].

God, in his patience, did not act in judgement on Noah’s generation until after their wickedness had reached the point where ‘enough is enough’, and even then only after Noah had preached righteousness to them for 120 years [Genesis 6:1-13; 1Peter 3:18-20a & 2Peter 2:5].

God did not act in judgement on the Canaanite peoples until after their iniquity had reached the ‘enough is enough’ cut off point [Genesis 15:12-16; Deuteronomy 9:4-6].

As God revealed himself to Moses:

‘The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished ...’ [Exodus 34:6-7].

Christ’s apparent slackness in keeping his promise to return is not slackness at all: it is his patience. And in that patience is his deep compassion, his longing, his waiting, for our repentance.

He is giving us time to repent. The judgement must come and will come. But God does not want us to fall under the judgement. So he gives us time. [Consider: where would you be now if Christ had returned the day before the date you first believed in him! Are you not incredibly glad that he delayed his coming ... delayed it for you?]

God, by this patience, puts himself at risk of misunderstanding

So great is God’s desire to have people come to repentance that he leaves himself open to gross misunderstanding and misrepresentation. He has both the physical power and the legal authority to implement his just judgement and exact the defined penalty. He could, at any moment, terminate all sin and all suffering. But he does not do so. Not yet.

And because of this ‘not yet’, inaccurate accusatory questions are raised against him: How could a loving God allow all of this suffering! Why doesn’t God do something about it! Why do the wicked go unpunished! And, as those of whom Peter wrote asked: ‘Where is this “coming” he promised?’

God is accused of being uncaring, unreliable and unable.

And he bears with this. In his great compassion and patience he allows himself to be misunderstood and misrepresented. Just as he did in the incarnation. It is an amazing action on God’s part, an awesome demonstration of his redeeming love. He, in giving us time to repent, allows himself to be vilified.

© Rosemary Bardsley 2018