Is God Patient?
Why this Question?
In The Knowledge of the Holy, A.W. Tozer writes, “We wait for the sun to move from east to west or for the hour hand to move around the face of the clock, but God is not compelled so to wait. For Him everything that will happen has already happened.”
God is not compelled so to wait? What does that mean? Does waiting even factor into His existence? If not, is “patience” relevant to discussing His nature?
Granted, at the heart of such questions is a mysterious God of many attributes and many names, the “I am”, GOD, who has no creator, who created our world, entered it at a specific time in history as a specific human being, Jesus of Nazareth, who died and rose from the dead in that lifespan, and then, shortly after ascending to Heaven, came to reside permanently in that same world as the Spirit that dwells within and guides the hearts of His disciples in truth and wisdom. And more.
Christians have heard these ideas countless times. It is taken for granted to be sensible, but think about it again—really think about what has been communicated. Perhaps consider it another way:
As the orthodox creeds of Christianity proclaim, this God is the one and only eternal, triune God. One and Triune. He is not only the Creator, King, and Judge, but a man, Jesus, fully human and fully divine, the embodiment of God’s love that fulfills His justice while professing His grace and mercy to humanity. Outside the universe and in the universe. And more.
With so many facets and apparent paradoxes, there seems to be more mystery than clarity enshrouding our hope for a holistic view of God. Through His Word, Jesus, and how he interacts with the Holy Spirit, however, God does reveal the essentials of His nature. Perhaps the rest is not essential (though by no means unimportant).
Jesus, this Word, is the blood that flows through the heart of God’s mystery. It gives life. It stains it. Once covered in it, filled with it even, it is nearly impossible to remove. Furthermore, being that Jesus is not directly, physically here at the moment, humanity probably only has bloodstains to decipher anyway. This is enough for hope and salvation, but it is not the complete body. There are only living pieces—growing and active—but pieces all the same.
This mystery has been confounding brilliant minds for centuries, giving rise to differing theories of interpretation—too readily called doctrine—that have often led to serious divisions and even violence. Libraries are full of mortal reason in all fields of study wrestling with the right words to explain the mystery. Yet reason is not enough to explain God. Scientific process, art, personal testimony—everything in the human arsenal of experience unfortunately proves inadequate to provide a complete understanding of God. Thus faith must step in to bridge the numerous, seemingly insurmountable chasms that human hearts and minds cannot cross. Attempting to journey across such thresholds demands courage, therefore. And humility.
Given the many questions raised against current presuppositions, against those claiming exegetical backing—which, if we are honest, is often more eisegetical in nature—one cannot possibly address them all succinctly in a single article. The questions become stifling. They can cramp the will, prevent us from fostering the resources to actually take action. Not all will feel this way, but they have their own strengths and passions—their own vision. I am more compelled by the wilderness of how art speaks to experience rather than reason or science.
Every once and a while, though, drawn to enter the world of scholarship, the mind is opened to larger possibilities of deduction. In this instance, Tozer may provide the nudge.
Let us assume, for now, then, that God is outside of time, and, therefore, knows both the end and the beginning simultaneously; that there is no future, no past, and no present for God—at least not in the sense that we know them. We cannot really know this for sure because its infinite potential extends beyond our finite limitations. We are led to understand that time exists in a half-dimension: it has a starting point, and proceeds in only one direction. There are so many other dimensions, so does it really matter that we understand the nature of how God exists outside time and space? In the sense that trying to answer the questions can draw us closer in relationship with God, yes. In the sense that it affects how we should live right now, maybe not so much.
As disciples of Jesus, we are called to follow him—to be like him. At the heart of the Gospel is a story of God’s love. Though we do not fully grasp how that all works with its tensions of justice, grace, and much more, it is a critical aspect of God’s character. It is written that “God is love” (I John 4:8). Tozer would add that God does not so much show love, but offer the only true, complete reality of it. Again, God is love. He is the starting point of understanding it.
So What is Love?
One of the most well-known definitions begins with “Love is patient” (1 Corinthians 13:4). This suggests that patience is one intrinsic link to understanding love. Therefore, it must be an aspect of God’s character, right? Or is it yet another failed attempt at human understanding? In fact, are most things that we call attributes of God limited expressions of the Truth?
It is remarkable how swiftly the question can lead us to the edge of the chasm of utter perplexity. Hence, for now let us focus only on one word and one idea: patience.
What does “patience” really mean? What does the Bible provide to the conversation? More specifically, how does patience specifically relate to our relationship with God and, therefore, with other people?
It takes a lot of time to begin to thoroughly study a word. Therefore, this brief mental journey has been divided into parts. The Hebrew and Greek words commonly translated into English terms associated with patience will be examined along with Scripture in the next two posts—as will the ramifications of such knowledge, which is the more important concern of this work.