Saturday, September 3, 2011

The Patience Of God

Of all the qualities we see in God, patience is the one I find most amazing.

I have heard of artists, musicians and intellectuals who are unusually talented and creative, but woefully lacking in self-control and forbearance.

A concert pianist rages because the piano bench is too low. A diva on the stage goes into a tantrum about her co-star's poor performance. A professional lecturer fumes over the audio feedback.

Those intent upon perfection inevitably find flaws, faults, and failure in the settings and personnel with whom they work. And sometimes the demanding perfectionists lose their tempers; they rant, rail and rave at the offending party and even the innocent around them.

God, on the other hand, shows remarkable patience. The Perfect One tolerates the imperfect. The Sinless One endures sinners. The Creative One bears with the clumsy.

If anthropologists are right, that homo sapiens has been around for some 200,000 years, then those of us who believe that "thinking man" is the deliberate creation by God have much to explain.

If human beings are made in God's image, if God has a plan for humanity, if the Creator is really concerned about and involved with creation, how are we to interpret human history before Christ, or before Abraham, or before the first signs of religion, law, and morality appear?

If the universe began 13 billion years ago with a "big bang" (a clashing of cymbals) by the Great Orchestrator, we have to conclude that God was in no hurry to create human beings.

Not only are we late-comers to the universe, but Jesus comes on stage very, very long after the curtain first rises, long after human beings made their appearance.

One of the traditions recorded in Genesis wrestled with these mysteries. More than 3000 years ago some of our ancestors told the story of God's creating human beings, of placing them in an ideal setting, of man's rebellion, of the consequences of sin, and, perhaps most importantly, of the conviction that human beings would be able to over come the evil they had unleashed against themselves.

"The Lord God formed the man out of the dust...the Lord God then took the man and settled him in the garden of Eden...and God asked, 'Have you eaten from the tree from which I had forbidden you to eat?'...and God said to the serpent, 'I will put enmity between you and the woman, between your offspring and hers; and they will strike at your head while you strike at their heel.'"

The Genesis tradition provides insight. Human history is a strange mixture of divine and human action, a patchwork of rebellion and second-chance.

And through the whole patch-work story runs the thread of unbelievable patience on the part of God.

The Gospel accounts suggest that Jesus had his moments of frustration: "Will you also go away?...have I been with you so long a time and you still do not know me, Philip?...Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? Behold, the hour is at hand..."

But in the final moments Jesus could still muster divine patience, "Father, forgive them; they know not what they do."

God's patience, the divine ability to wait, is amazing.

And recognition of that divine attribute has a soothing effect on us. If God can be patient with us, perhaps we should be patient with others and ourselves as well.

Jesus' initial invitation to his disciples is "Come, follow me." That proposal implies movement. Accepting Jesus as Lord is simply the first step. We're going somewhere.

Our Christian lives are an evolution, a process of ongoing development.

God waits patiently for the seed to fall to the earth and die so that it can sprout and bring new life. And God waits patiently for us to do the same.

God is wondrously patient!

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