Patience is not a Synonym for Tolerance

Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness leads you toward repentance?

Romans 2:4

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When we are unaccustomed to thinking about God in terms of his character, specifically his benevolence and grace, we can easily be led to believe that his patience with us reflects a lack of resolve. Perhaps resolve is too harsh a word; seriousness and intention to judge would be a better statement of our interpretation of God’s patience.

For many in the natural world, the fact that God has yet to judge them lends credence to their belief that He will not. For those inside of the family of God, patience can be interpreted as tolerance. Both interpretations are equally fallacious as God is neither tolerant or unjust. The missing component in both of these misinterpretations of the patience of God is the finite time span in which most people’s thinking resides, in contrast to the pre and post-existent manner in which God sees history.

History only has a beginning and ending point in human terms. We are given the story of our origin in the garden and a preview of the conclusion of history in John’s Apocalypse. Because of the span of time that passes between these two terminus, human beings tend to think in much smaller spans. Because God has not ended the world and passed judgment in the lifetime of our grandparents or parents or even ourselves thus far, we cannot envision the reality that it may happen at any time.

From the perspective of God, history has no beginning and ending as he has always existed and will always exist. His patience with his beloved creation spans much more than three lifetimes as we see it. Because our minds naturally drift to our favorite subject—ourselves– we pass this infinite patience through the filter of what we would like it to mean, either tolerance or the withholding releasing of judgment.

Considering Romans 2:4 in the course of Holy Week (an interesting twist of the language since every week is holy week) brings a fresh perspective to both the idea and the verse. God evidences his unmatched love and care for humanity in the giving of a Savior. The Savior suffers and pays the penalty due from us and makes the free offer to apply this sacrifice to our lives through faith. This does away with the false belief in tolerance as God clearly does not “just look the other way.” The serious of judgment and its inevitability are also highlighted in the fact that the perfectly just God requires the perfectly spotless sacrifice. If judgment were to be permanently delayed, no such sacrifice would be necessary.

What is on display is the fullness of God’s love and his desire (2 Peter 3:9) that none should perish. His withholding of immediate judgment and even the multi-generation patience that God shows has as its goal our repentance. While the Bible is clear that it will not be withheld indefinitely, neither are we told the moment in which that judgment will be consummated. We must act on God’s kindness, repent and put our full faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ. This is the only appropriate response to the riches of his kindness.

Grace and peace to you.