We all know that patience is a virtue, and one we should seek. So says our beloved St. Paul (Gal. 5:22-23): “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”
But patience seems in short supply these days. Across the globe, our cultures are increasingly hasty, reactionary, unreflective. The Internet is partly to blame — or, at least, our use of it. Life once seemed so much slower. Who then was pressured to endorse publicly the every waking thought of their friends and family? Who then communicated in memes and 140 characters? From Lagos to Los Angeles, our relationships have changed, as have our thoughts.
Yet, in one sense, it has always been so; “no temptation has overtaken us” but that which been common to humanity since the beginning (1 Cor. 10:13).
Consider the example of the Israelites, waiting at the foot of Mount Sinai. They had beheld the Lord’s wonders in Egypt, as they were delivered “with a mighty hand and outstretched arm” (Ps. 136:12). They were nourished with miraculous food and drink (Exod. 16-17). They saw the glory of the Lord descend visibly in the wilderness, as a “devouring fire” on the mountain (Exod. 19:18; Exod. 24:17). God arrived in triumphal procession, impressing himself on the people’s senses, with the sound of the trumpet and the clap of thunder (Exod: 16-19).
Yet when Moses ascended into the cloud to receive the divine law, the people could not wait 40 days for his return. They asked Aaron, the priest of the Holy One, to make for them an idol, and so they provoked God’s wrath, though he is “the Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for the thousandth generation, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin” (Exod. 34:6-7). And it was right for God to be angry with this impatient people, for he is just, “by no means clearing the guilty.”
After the Exodus, God’s people could not wait 40 days for Moses to come down the mountain with the divine law, and so they wandered in the wilderness for 40 years. And though we live after Christ’s cross and our redemption, it seems few of us can wait 40 seconds for anything.
Thank God that with his help we can change. “Today, if you hear his voice, harden not your hearts” (Ps. 95:7-8).
Be not impatient, like the Israelites clamouring for resolution and falling into idolatry. Remember instead better examples: “David, and all the hardships he endured,” (Ps. 132:1); Jacob, serving seven years for Leah and seven years for Rachel (Gen. 29:20-28); Jeremiah, calling out year on year to a people that would not listen (Jer. 7:27-28).
Most of all, remember the patience of Jesus Christ, who endured much from us sinners (Heb. 12:3), loving us and giving his life as “a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).
The Revd Dr Zachary Guiliano is associate editor of The Living Church, and a deacon of the Church of England, serving as assistant curate at St Bene’t’s Church, Cambridge.