How come you are alive today? How come I'm alive today? I'm a sinner, you're all sinners, already today we have disobeyed God, let him down, left things undone. I want to know, how come we're still here?
You've probably never thought about it have you? But it's a miracle!
Have you ever wondered why does God allow suffering? Or how could a God of love send people to Hell?
These are important questions that need an answer. But they start off with a wrong assumption. They assume that we deserve something other than suffering. They assume that we deserve to go to Heaven.
And really a much better version of the two questions is:
Why do sinful people enjoy so much pleasure in life for so long? And How come a holy God hasn't sent us all the Hell much sooner? How come God's world is filled with people who defy his commands minute after minute after minute?
Either he isn't powerful enough to do anything, or there must be another reason
That other reason is that he is patient. In Ex 34 God gives us his self portrait. He describes himself to Moses in these words
"The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation."
God is not a God who ignores sin, he will act, but in the meantime he is slow to anger.
What a great phrase. It should be the cause of praise for every human being. We owe our every breath to this attribute. There are three things that this verse teaches us about God's patience.
God's patience is great
Often we are forced to be patient in circumstances because we are powerless to do anything else. We can't change circumstances, and we have no choice but to grin and bear it, or be crushed by it.
Such patience is commendable. But it isn't half as amazing as God's patience. God is slow to anger. He is longsuffering. Not because he has to be. Not because he has no choice, and he just has to tolerate sin. Not because he is short of power and has to wait until his batteries recharge before he is strong enough to do anything about his rebel subjects. God's patience is the most real, and most incredible patience in the universe. Because it is a powerful patience. He could wipe us out in an instant. Nothing is beyond his control.
The LORD is slow to anger and great in power - Nahum 1:3
But he doesn't wipe us out, because God's patience is real. It is his choice. That's actually quite frightening. Each of us is hanging here suspended between life and death, heaven and Hell by a slender thread, and that slender thread is the patience of God. And the astonishing thing is that some people attack the very thread that holds them and supports them.
Scripture is filled with examples of God's patience. We see it in Gen 3 when Adam and Eve introduce sin into God's perfect creation, and God comes into the Garden, and he knows Adam and Eve sinned, he knows where they are hiding, and yet he doesn't wipe them out.
We see it in Gen 6. God looks at the earth and sees that every inclination of man's heart was only evil all the time. And he declares that he is going to judge this wicked world, and destroy it. In 120 years time. During which he will send a preacher to warn them, and provide a way of salvation so that these rebels need not perish.
We see it over and over again in the story of the exodus, that forms the background to these verses.
God had rescued 2 and a half million people from slavery and cruelty in Egypt. They got to the Red Sea, and what did they do? Grumbled!
And what did he do? We was patient with them and rescued them.
A few verses later we read, "When they came to Marah, they could not drink its water because it was bitter. So the people grumbled. And God was patient with these grumbling people. He gave them water.
Next chapter Ex 16: "If only we had died by the LORD's hand in Egypt!" And God was patient and provided food.
And so it goes. Ch 17 they quarrelled about water. Guess what? God is patient.
They are camped at Mt Sinai, and they make a golden calf, and God threatens to destroy them. But he doesn't, why? Because he is patient.
And it is just after this incident that he proclaims to Moses, "The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger…"
Slow to anger - I'm sure Moses said the Hebrew equivalent of "You bet". God is patient.
But stop a moment and marvel at the greatness of his patience.
It's a great patience. We see the greatness of God's patience in the fact that he gives warnings about his anger and his judgments. He sent prophet after prophet after prophet to Israel, he has sent preachers all over the world. Like a father who says, "Don't make me have to get up to you" instead of just reacting instantly. He warned Nineveh, he warned the world in Noah's day. He warns us.
We see his patience in the fact that he delays sending judgment despite great provocation. We see his patience in that he often continues to send blessings and happiness and pleasure to his rebel creatures.
He warns, the world ignores, he warns, it ignores, he sends little reminders - storms, floods, sicknesses - the world ignores, and still he is patient. And when he does send these mini judgments "he doesn't empty the quiver of his arrows" (Charnock). And he doesn't reel in his blessings from this rebel world. He still sends rain, he still gives laughter.
We see his greatness in the multitude of sins that he is patient with daily. Peter thought he was doing well if he was to be patient with his brother 7 times for the same offence. Jesus said "more like 77 times." Think how vast the multitude of sins that rise each day from this earth towards heaven. 6.5 billion people who sin daily, and who sin by not doing what they should as well doing what they shouldn't, in thought word and deed. Lets say a bare minimum of 1 wrong thing per person per day. 6.5 billion sins per day. 45 billion per week. 2 trillion 400 billion sins per year. And its been nearly 2000 years since God the son came to this earth to die to set people free from their sin.
And when we grasp that each person commits more than 1 per day. We sin often daily in thought word and deed. We sin often by doing wrong and not doing right. And when we add to that the immense insult that every sin is to the holiness of God.
Can you see the greatness of his patience? Peter's 'generosity' in forgiving his brother 7 times seems microscopic in comparison.
And it is even more amazing when you consider that the vast majority of people on this planet have no time for Jesus, the beloved one and only son of God, that they couldn't care less that he took the wrath of Hell on us so that we don't have to face it. And when you consider how much the son went through and how much the son means to the father, it is an unbelievable miracle that most of this world isn't struck down instantly for rejecting such a magnificent offer, that was bought at such a high price.
Hebrews 10:29 "How much more severely do you think a man deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God under foot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified him, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace?"
But still he is patient with you.
And fellow Christians - we can't just point the finger at all the unbelievers out there and speak about how they are really pushing God's patience.
Look at us - we whom Christ has died for, who should know better, who have had that precious blood poured out for us, who have been set free from the power of sin, who don't have to sin anymore, and we do, we return to our sins like a dog to vomit, and we should know better. And God is patient with us.
At the cross, and since the cross we see God's patience in a whole new light.
It is a great patience.
Encouragement here for believers.
It is encouraging when we look at our lives and we feel so unworthy and so unfit to be loved, and times we feel so deserving of judgment. We have a God who has great stocks of patience.
It gives us great comfort to trust him.
"If he hath so rich a patience to exercise towards his enemies, he hath a greater treasure to bestow upon his friends." (Charnock)
If he is so patient with unbelievers, how much more certain is our salvation.
God's patience is great