Dec 23, 2013

Is God Patient? (Part 3)

If you have not done so already, be sure to read the Introduction that is Part 1 and the study of the Hebrew root words that is Part 2

The Greek Definitions
Endurance as Salvation: makrǒthumia/ makrǒthumōs
Found fifteen times in the New Testament, fourteen in the first form and once in the second (Acts 26:3), this word refers to forbearance or fortitude, to be longsuffering, or to endure.

So how is YHWH enduring?

Linked alongside the Hebrew word, ârêk, the Apostle Paul writes to the early church in Rome, “Or do you presume the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance [a ‘change of mind’]?” In Romans 9:22-23, Paul goes on to write, “What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels [Greek ‘bodies’] of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory.”

Along with how YHWH waited for Noah to build the Ark before flooding the earth as a result of its sin (1 Peter 3:20), Paul’s comments lead me to wonder if YHWH is both judge and executioner. In other words, does He directly condemn and destroy and pardon?

Here are some possible answers:

1.      YHWH holds Himself in check. His wrath is in constant counter tension with His grace, His destruction with His renewal, with justice somewhere muddled in the middle. YHWH practices self-control.
2.      YHWH holds an angelic entity—or entities—in check.
a.       There is a heavenly servant zealous to execute YHWH’s righteous judgment in its absolutely pure service to and love of its lord. This recalls Jesus’ interaction with his disciples, James and John, the “Sons of Thunder,” as recorded in Luke 9:52-56. Jesus replied to their fervor to destroy an unrepentant city with fire, “You do not know what manner of spirit you are of; for the Son of Man came not to destroy people’s lives but to save them.”
b.      There is a demonic, hellish force like Destruction (Hebrew Abaddon, Greek Apollyon) that readily tries to stir chaos amidst the world, but which is countered and sometimes contained, or even allowed—as Paul seems to suggest—by YHWH and/or His heavenly agents (compare Daniel 10:10-14 with 2 Corinthians 12:7).
3.      YHWH endures or allows the destruction that mankind so readily fosters, both in honor of freewill, but also so that those who Paul calls “the elect” might be drawn to His power amidst the hardship.

In contrast to Paul’s verbose style, the Apostle Peter perhaps offers a more concise perspective to begin with when addressing this subject. He writes, “Count the patience of our Lord as salvation” (2 Peter 3:15a). Alright, so how does YHWH’s patience provide salvation? Is it because YHWH does not destroy mankind at the first instance of sin, or because He prevents something else from bringing harm, or because he has chosen to endure the chaos that humanity often embraces and incites?

Those who want a simple black-and-white answer—such as those who generally emphasize YHWH’s sovereignty to mean that everything happens by His direct decree—will likely favor #1 above. Those who allow a worldview’s value to include shades between black and white may be more inclined toward a dynamic involving the two latter answers, or at least #2b and #3. In part, this leads to a discussion about spiritual warfare, which, though fascinating and important, does not really have ground to be discussed here. If there is room for all aforementioned points to exist together, however, Jesus seems to be the only means to begin understanding it—the only bridge.

So perhaps examining how mankind is to be longsuffering will add more insight to this riddle of how YHWH’s wrath and mercy coexist.

The aspect of patience associated with makrǒthumia commends a Christ-follower’s ministry (2 Corinthians 6:6), or “the calling to which [we] have been called . . . bearing with one another in love . . . eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:1-3). Patience is a product not of my own efforts, but of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). It is how I am meant to engage people (Colossians 1:11, 3:12, 1 Thessalonians 5:14), preach the Gospel (2 Timothy 4:2), and demonstrate my praise for Jesus’ mercy even as I struggle with pain (1 Timothy 1:16; 2 Timothy 3:10). YHWH’s endurance saves me because, while my endurance can help expand the Kingdom, it is grounded and grows because of what the Son of Man, Jesus, endured. He makes the call to live in endurance clearer—and harder. His life exonerates and glorifies the legacy of those who “inherit the promises” of God’s covenant with Abraham (Hebrews 6:12; James 5:10; Hebrews 6:15). It is about worship, about sharing the ultimate abundance that YHWH has provided.

Real Freedom: makrǒthuměō
Found nine times in the New Testament, and similar to the previous set of words, this differs only in that it includes an aspect of being mild and slow in avenging—slow to anger and slow to punish.

Though affirming man’s call to “Be patient . . . until the coming of the Lord [a farming metaphor]” (James 5:7), this word essentially applies to YHWH. This is best demonstrated in Jesus’ parable of the unforgiving servant (Matthew 18:26, 29), one of three instances where the English word “patience” is directly associated with Jesus’ teaching. The second example, found in Luke 18:7-8, contains two questions.

The first is whether, in the end, when Jesus returns, YHWH will delay long in giving justice [avenge the persecution of] the “elect, who cry to him day and night”? In this particular discourse, Jesus is affirming that YHWH is indeed responsive, that He hears the cries of the hurting, and will ultimately respond to them. This is not to say, however, that He will necessarily do so right now. This quickly lends itself to a discussion of the so-called “Problem of Evil,” which cannot be adequately addressed here. But part of the answer may reside in what was just outlined concerning makrǒthumia.

This is further complicated by Jesus’ conclusion of this parable with the second question: Will YHWH even find faith on earth? This lends itself to another question (or two): Is YHWH’s help somehow dependent on how much I have allowed or opened myself to be helped? Though difficult amidst suffering, is YHWH’s delay in giving justice actually to the benefit of all mankind?

While various Old Testament accounts challenge a sense of YHWH delaying justice—e.g. the Flood, the intended genocide of Canaan—complicating the discussion with questions about YHWH’s goodness and consistency, which is yet another discussion related to the theology of the Kingdom, it seems best to once again try to focus on how Jesus informs the broader picture. And let us not forget Tozer’s helpful definitions of mercy and grace as shared in Part 2 of this series.

In 2 Peter 3:9, “The Lord [Greek Kurios = ‘He with the power to decide, the master, the possessor, commonly associated with God, the Messiah’] is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you [on your account], not wishing that any should perish, but that all [Greek Pas = ‘individually, collectively’] should reach repentance.” YHWH desires relationship with each person. Yet the freedom that He has breathed into the structure of this world allows us to reject that desire. That is, depending on how you define or whether you accept the premise of “Irresistible Grace.” Regardless, this inherent freedom is base at best. The pursuit of stimulants like sex, wealth, and/or fame usually proves to be a cheap expression of freedom. As a focus, that kind of worship binds and starves me in its short-term pleasure rather than offering any real long-term peace in satisfaction, which is ultimate freedom. Furthermore, there are clearly ramifications for rejecting YHWH’s mercy and grace.

Opening myself to YHWH is about surrendering my freedom to choose anything else to predominantly love. Therein resides real freedom. Another paradox: surrendering freedom to gain it. In this transformed bond, it is a freedom that nourishes gifts like sex, wealth, and/or fame with true beauty and meaning—with life.

Life and Wholeness: hupǒmênō
This word, found thirty-one times in the New Testament, is very similar to the previous three words in emphasizing steadfastness, but it also  contains a figurative aspect of undergo (bear) (trials), suffer.

In patience, I wait and hope for what I do not see (Romans 8:25), my hope being through the encouragement of the Scriptures—by the God of endurance, encouragement, and glorious might (Colossians 1:11; 2 Peter 1:6)—in order that I may live in harmony with fellow Christ-followers, and thus with Jesus; that together we might glorify him (Romans 15:4-5). This steadfast hope rises from the steadfastness of Jesus (1 Thessalonians 1:3; 2 Thessalonians 3:5). As with Job, the purpose of YHWH is compassionate and merciful to those who are steadfast (James 5:11). Or as Jesus reveals to John, “Because you have kept my word about patient endurance [following the command to not worship false gods and receive their mark, not being swayed by false teaching and materialism], I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world” (1 Timothy 6:11-12; Revelation 2:2-3, 3:10, 14:12).

I am not only spared YHWH’s wrath, but I am offered life [Greek: breath of life, soul] (Luke 21:19; see also Romans 2:7; Hebrews 10:36; Revelation 2:19). True life is meant to bear spiritual fruit. The most noteworthy fruit is relationship. Relationship necessitates perseverance (Luke 8:15). Jesus is my example of this (Hebrews 12:1). I become like him by imitating and adopting his steadfast faith amidst suffering (Romans 5:3; 2 Corinthians 1:5, 6:4; 2 Thessalonians 1:4; 2 Timothy 3:10; Revelation 1:9). His suffering was not only physical, but emotional as his closest friends abandoned him. Even YHWH [somehow] abandoned him. It is written that this kind of steadfast faith makes me “perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:3-4)—a calling to all who follow Jesus (Revelation 13:10), especially meant to be modeled and encouraged in the Church by my elders (Titus 2:2). It is a lofty goal, but it is possible because of Jesus. In it there is hope for life. In it there is hope for being whole again.

Transformation: aněxikakǒs
This is summarized well with the one Scripture passage that uses this word, here meaning the [human] endurance of ill and wrongs:

“And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth” (2 Timothy 2:24). My example of living and striving toward a life of peace and wholeness, serves the Holy Spirit in guiding people toward transformation. As do the examples of all who follow Jesus. That is part of the divine romance. It requires community, for only in this kind of community can real maturation and progress occur.

Illuminated Mirrors: ěpiěikēs
This final word, used five times in the New Testament, is defined by the English words suitable, fair, mild, gentle, and moderation.

This applies to YHWH as an attribute of “wisdom from above,” which is heavily associated with being peaceable (James 3:17).

This characteristic of reasonableness and gentleness should apply to me as a disciple of Jesus because it can endear me to others. Whether from a position of authority that contrasts trends like violence, drunkenness, and greed (1 Timothy 3:3), or as a demonstration of my submission to authority (1 Peter 2:18), or my general good will (Titus 3:2), acting from gentleness demonstrates the true freedom in which I live, the transformation taking place within my life. In short, it demonstrates the Holy Spirit of Jesus living in my heart.

There is meaning in this. There is hope because it is marked by a promise that the peace of YHWH will shelter and fill my heart and mind. I can mirror this because Jesus’ pure life, living water, fills my life—as it can be with all who receive him. More so, it can be illuminated, and thus illuminate. Jesus came. Jesus comes. Soli deo gloria.

There is tension in life. Patience would not be necessary if it were not so. Tension is at the heart of unspeakable pain. Yet it also directs toward some of the most compelling beauty. It empowers movement: muscle fibers producing physical motion. It produces music: stringed instruments. It forms language: human vocal cords. . . . There is so much heartache and so much beauty. One reaches from the grave while the other pulls it out to live and stand once more.

How can I stand? How can I help others stand?

YHWH is faithful. Therefore, I can be faithful.

“Now faith is being sure of what we hope for, and certain of what we do not see.” Faith is about following YHWH’s prompting, about surrendering my own desires for the greater vision of the Gospel of the Kingdom. I have hope in following YHWH because He has and does already bear the true burdens of choice. To follow Him is to follow His choice, which is to follow Jesus: the answer to waiting for salvation. YHWH shelters me in this mercy and grace. I do not have to face storms alone and exposed.

My days on this earth are limited, my impact relatively small. But those days and impact can be meaningful when they are lifted up and carried by Jesus. He makes life significant. He gives it direction. He gives it hope. Each day is a precious opportunity. Therefore I join Tozer’s prayer, “So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.”

So is God patient?

I ask this question because it points to understanding YHWH’s love, and, therefore, the love that I am inspired to offer to others. This inspiration, this living, is a kind of worship.

Why worship? Because YHWH is compassionate and just. He does not default to anger, but allows me to respond. I find strength in this love to wait for the ultimate fulfillment of His goodness. I find belonging as I join Jesus’ Great Campaign to gather all people into his Kingdom of Heaven. I find hope in this because Jesus endured the unthinkable—the unfathomable—that the world might know salvation. It was for freedom that he set me free. In that freedom I find peace. In peace there is life. That life is about transformation. It is about mirroring—about illuminating—Love. It is about something that began over two thousand years ago in a seemingly insignificant town, in a seemingly insignificant shed, on a seemingly insignificant night. Yet it was a night that changed everything, when insignificance began to be utterly transformed into significance—when what was expected, when what was thought reasonable, suddenly became only the beginning. Jesus, the advent of peace on earth: YHWH’s absolute authority and power manifested in this world as it is in Heaven.

This is the real meaning of Christmas. This is why we should celebrate. Really. What are you waiting for?

Merry Christmas.

Thank you for navigating some of this wilderness with me.

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