Rev Peter Dodson explores the theology and practice of Christian patience- a regular columnist in the Ripon Gazette http://www.ripongazette.co.uk/news/opinion/the-holy-living-column-with-rev-peter-dodson-1-8478337
A long time ago I discovered, through the spiritual and poetic genius of the Holy Bible, that God is represented as saying to his people and, therefore, to me, “I am patient with you” (Jeremiah 3.14 GNB). I thought to myself then, and today, “Thank God for that!” I knew in my bones that I endlessly frustrate the threefold God who loves me to death. I also live with another Divine Saying that explodes with the words, “How long do I have to put up with you?” The relationship between God and me is like that of a loving father and his wayward child.
Jeremiah’s loving but frustrated God, calls his rebellious people back to him: “Come back to me, for I am patient with you.” Similar language is found through the prophet Hosea: God says to his wayward people, “I will make for you a covenant … I will betroth you to me for ever; I will betroth you to me in righteousness and justice, in steadfast love and mercy. I will betroth you to me in faithfulness.” (Hosea 2.18-20)
In spite of the rebellious behaviour of the people of Israel, in spite of my own persistent failure to love God as he loves me, the heart of God never gives up on me or any other human being. God eternally expresses desire and longing “for us and for our salvation” (Nicene Creed).
I have a personal way of testing Old Testament Sayings. Am I able to imagine those Sayings as spoken from the lips of Jesus. In my experience, authentic Divine Sayings inevitably speak from the lips and heart of Jesus, as well as from the Cross: “Come back to me, for I am patient with you.” “Patience is [sacrificial] love enduring.”
I am convinced that the power of such language needs to be received in deep silence, kept in mind and taken to heart. Then, like the well-known Parable of the Sower, the “seed” of this language will germinate, root, burst into flower and bear abundant fruit. The spirit of “I am patient with you” can profoundly affect and govern all attitudes and relationships.
This wise spiritual discipline can transform those who know themselves to be impatient. In spite of all the work God has done in and for me, I continue to resist and even rebel against God. Because of my own past history, I suffer from a muddled mind, hard heart and weak will.
The holiest of saints never saw themselves as perfect. They may display a high level of Christian love, joy, peace and, the subject of this Gazette column, patience. Patience is never easy. Christians are obliged to work at it so that they become more patient in the way they think and behave, to the way they relate to family, friends, acquaintances, as well as the wider world.
“Patience is love enduring” and that endurance includes suffering. A willingness to suffer, and even to die, is central to Jesus’ own witness and mission. It is also central to wise, loving and powerful theology, as well as to practical Christian life and living. A truly patient Christian is able to wait without becoming annoyed or anxious.
The whole notion of “waiting patiently” is vital to any kind of Christian discipline. Like a well-trained restaurant waiter, our threefold God waits on us, offering every human being a bountiful and nourishing “menu.” We are free to receive and digest what is on offer; we are also free to ignore or reject it. The prophet Ezekiel tells us that he “ate it; and in [his] mouth it tasted sweet as honey” (3.3 NRSV).
Christians are called to live their lives by the divine spirit of “I am patient with you.” I have been very blessed, for the past several years, to have a wonderful spiritual confessor and director. I thank God for his endless holy patience with me. You, the reader, may also be fortunate to have truly patient people in your life. I think immediately of teachers, medical practitioners and home carers whose patience is often very strongly tested.
But what about those people, including far too many baptised Christians, who behave as though patience is a weakness; who act impatiently, intolerantly and even with crushing abuse and brutality, simply to achieve their own ends or to satisfy their own selfish cravings? What about those who choose to ignore, reject, spit upon, or even actively attempt to destroy the Christian faith?
That is why patient prayer for oneself and others, even enemies, is said to be “the greatest work of love of which human beings are capable.” Authentic Christian prayer for others becomes a sharing in the endlessly patient, self-giving love of God, as revealed in Jesus the Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit. “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace [and] patience.