Moses was well-acquainted with the patience of God. He pled for Israel when they betrayed the Lord with the Golden Calf. For years he dealt with the Israelites in the desert, their complaining and recalcitrance. They “vexed the Holy One of Israel” (Ps. 78:41), and still God bore it, restraining his wrath and refusing to cut them off (Isa. 48:9). God’s patience is a central, defining feature of his character.
But this wasn’t always a comfort to Moses. Rather than being left to deal with the grumbling and sin of his people, he asks God to kill him outright (Num. 11:15).
Moses isn’t alone in this frustration.Unnerved by the success of lawbreakers, thieves, and idolaters, the psalmist asks, “How long will the wicked be jubilant?” (Ps. 94:3). David cries a similar lament in the face of his enemies’ taunts (Ps. 13:1). Overwhelmed by opposition, he wonders whether God will defend him. In Scripture, God’s people are surprised and repelled by God’s patience as often as they are comforted by it.
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?
The wisdom of God in the Cross often comes across to us as foolishness (1 Cor. 1:18). 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)
God may be patient, but he does not delay. As the transcendent Lord of all time, he has declared from ancient times things not yet done (Isa. 46:10). His eyes alone behold the whole tapestry of history. As beings bound by time, we experience them only as frayed threads. But his timing is perfect.
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).
Perhaps this is why Paul was able to persevere for the church, to not give up in the face of slander, rejection, and flagrant sin in various congregations. At times he despaired even of life itself (2 Cor. 1:8). But Paul understood that his task was to water and plant. Only God brings growth (1 Cor. 3:9).
In light of the Resurrection, Paul encourages the church to “stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain” (1 Cor. 15:58). His command is not a bizarre non-sequitur but the practical application of everything that’s come before: Resurrection is coming, so don’t give up!
Faith in the Resurrection instills trust that our patient God—the One who waited three days in the tomb—has the power to bring a harvest of life even when all we see is a field sown with death (1 Cor. 15:42–43).
Derek Rishmawy is a doctoral student in systematic theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He writes online at derekzrishmawy.com.