In some Bible stories, we see Jesus forgiving sinners and God rescuing people from harm. In others stories, we witness God’s people being defeated and evil people facing judgment.
If we aren’t reading the Bible carefully, we might have a hard time making sense of these passages and what they tell us about God. Specifically, we might wonder if God is patient or harsh. And if He is patient, is God patient with me?
Patience is one of God’s attributes. God shows patience to individuals and to the human race as a whole. His plan for humanity’s salvation exemplifies His patience.
Patience and the Big Picture
The Lord is gracious and compassionate,
slow to anger and rich in love.Psalm 145:8
One of the reasons that we struggle to grasp God’s patience is because we lack patience ourselves. When we are faced with suffering we pray for quick solutions. Our interactions with impatient people have conditioned us to expect God to react harshly when we feel that we’ve let Him down.
God does not operate within our finite constraints of time and space. God acts with eternity in mind, seeing infinitely beyond what we can see.
So the—somewhat ironic—result is that we grow impatient with God precisely because He operates with infinite patience.
God’s Patience is Good News
Since sin entered the world, humanity has needed a solution. In Genesis 6-9, God saved Noah and his family from the destruction that He meted out on the rest of humanity in response to sin. This might appear to be an act of impatience, but by preserving Noah, God proved His patience by allowing humanity to restart and rebuild.
Since Noah himself bore the stain of sin, his survival also passed the sin nature on to subsequent generations. Yet in His patience, God promised not to destroy all of humanity a second time. Instead, He put a new long-term plan into action.
Patience and God’s Plan
God began His plan to redeem humanity by calling Abraham to be the father of His chosen people. Through Abraham’s descendants (the Israelites), God prepared His people—and the whole world—for the arrival of Jesus, in whom God’s rescue would be carried out.
In His patience, God carried this part of His plan out over a span of close to 2000 years.
After Jesus completed his work of dying on the cross and returning to life, he commissioned his church to carry the good news to the ends of the earth (Matthew 28:18-20). In His patience, God has already allowed the church over 2000 years to spread the gospel across the globe.
Is God Patient with Non-Believers?
Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?Romans 2:4
The overarching narrative of the Bible helps us see God’s patience from a distance, but we still may struggle to apply it to individual situations.
If we look at the work of Jesus’ ministry, we witness the kindness of God’s patience in action, leading people from unbelief to belief:
A man in the crowd answered, “Teacher, I brought you my son, who is possessed by a spirit that has robbed him of speech. Whenever it seizes him, it throws him to the ground. He foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth and becomes rigid. I asked your disciples to drive out the spirit, but they could not.”
“You unbelieving generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy to me.”Mark 9:17-19
A desperate father struggled with unbelief, and with good reason. His son had been afflicted by a demon since birth. When the father asked Jesus’ disciples to drive the demon out (Jesus was not present with them at that time), they failed. This surely added to the man’s unbelief.
Yet even as Jesus expressed his exasperation, much like a parent does with a child, he did not dismiss the man. Instead, when the father asked Jesus to help him in his unbelief (v 24), Jesus did just that and freed the boy from his demonic tormentor.
In the same way, God sometimes patiently allows us to reach the pinnacle of doubt before He provides an answer that helps us in our unbelief.
Is God Patient with Believers?
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 Peter 3:9
After we come to faith in Jesus, we have a lifetime of growth and spiritual maturation to look forward to. God patiently sees us through this process as He guides us in wisdom and knowledge and makes us more like Him.
For this reason, Paul testifies that “I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life.” (1 Timothy 1:16)
Paul’s own transformation from persecutor of Christians to ambassador for Christ served as proof of God’s patience for all who knew him. After all, if God could change Paul—the worst of sinners—he could change any of us.
God’s Patience in Us
As we mature, we find that God grows us more in His patience, further testifying to patience as an inherent attribute of God. In us, God’s patience is:
- Evidence of God’s Love (1 Corinthians 13:4)
- A fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23)
- A trait that we wear outwardly toward others when we clothe ourselves in Christ (Colossians 3:12)
So whether we are struggling with sin, enduring suffering, aching for the unbelievers in our midst, or raising up believers who don’t learn as quickly as we would like, we can call on our infinitely patient God to give us the patience that we need to serve Him.