Some people believe the Bible indicates that God is impatient, whereas the Bible contains scriptures that instruct us to be patient. Does this infer there is a double standard – one for God and another for us – with regard to the matter of patience? To answer this question, we will consider what the Bible says about both God’s patience and our patience.
[Note: When we quote Scripture in this article, we use the wording in the New King James Version of the Bible. Note also that, a number of other translations of the Bible translate “patience” as “longsuffering” or “longsuffering as “patience,” and sometimes one or the other of these terms is translated as “steadfastness,” “endurance” or “perseverance.”]
Among the numerous scriptures in the Bible that indicate people – especially, followers of Jesus Christ (i.e., Christians) – should be patient are the following:
Galatians 5:22-23: [T]he fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law.
Ephesians 4:1-3: I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace
Colossians 1:9-12: For this reason we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; strengthened with all might, according to His glorious power, for all patience and longsuffering with joy; giving thanks to the Father who has qualified us to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in the light.
Colossians 3:12-13: Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do.
1 Thessalonians 5:14: Now we [exhort you, brethren, warn those who are [unruly, comfort the fainthearted, uphold the weak, be patient with all.
1 Timothy 6:11: But you, O man of God, flee these things and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, gentleness.
2 Timothy 2:24: And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient. . . .
James 1:19: So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath. . . . [Note: Although no form of the words “patient” or “longsuffering” is mentioned in this scripture, patience is clearly the underlying factor.
The foregoing scriptures indicate that people, particularly Christians, should be patient. But, what does the Bible say about God being patient? And, if God is not patient, is His impatience justified?
There are many scriptures that state that God is patient, especially with regard to allowing people ample time to repent. (However, God gives some people more time and opportunities to repent than He gives to other people.) Scriptures that declare that God is patient include the following:
Exodus 34:6: And the LORD passed before him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth. . . .”
Numbers 14:18: The LORD is longsuffering and abundant in mercy, forgiving iniquity and transgression; but He by no means clears the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation.
Nehemiah 9:30: [F]or many years You [God] had patience with them [The Israelites] , and testified against them by Your Spirit in Your prophets. Yet they would not listen; Therefore You gave them into the hand of the peoples of the lands.
Psalm 86:15: You, O Lord, are a God full of compassion, and gracious, longsuffering and abundant in mercy and truth.
Joel 2:13: So rend your heart, and not your garments; return to the LORD your God, for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness; and He relents from doing harm. [Note: Despite the fact that neither patience nor longsuffering is mentioned in this scripture, it is evident that “slow to anger” infers patience.]
Nahum 1:3a: The LORD is slow to anger and great in power. . . .
1 Peter 3:20b: [O]nce the Divine longsuffering waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight souls, were saved through water.
2 Peter 3:9: The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.
Although the foregoing scriptures pertaining to God all indicate that He is patient, other scriptures infer that His patience is limited. (i.e., not infinite). We will focus on several incidents in the Bible that illustrate this.
One such incident is recorded in Genesis 6, particularly verses 5-7 and 11-13, which state,
Then the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the LORD was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart. So the LORD said, “I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth, both man and beast, creeping thing and birds of the air, for I am sorry that I have made them.”
The earth also was corrupt before God, and the earth was filled with violence. So God looked upon the earth, and indeed it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted their way on the earth. And God said to Noah, “The end of all flesh has come before Me, for the earth is filled with violence through them; and behold, I will destroy them with the earth.”
God’s patience is implicit in these verses of scripture. The inference is that God had for many years patiently observed the increasing corruption of mankind and, finally, God decided that He had given mankind ample time to repent and that it was necessary for Him to administer His judgment by destroying all mankind, except for Noah, whom God deemed righteous, and Noah’s family.
A second incident that demonstrates God is patient, but not infinitely patient, is found in chapters 7-12 of Exodus. The Israelites had been in Egypt for more than 400 years before God chose Moses to lead them out of captivity in that country to the land that centuries earlier God had promised to Abraham and his descendants. To compel the pharaoh of Egypt to let the Israelites leave, God sent, one-by-one, nine comparatively innocuous plagues before He sent the terrible last plague that killed the Egyptians’ first-born children, including the son of the pharaoh, which finally caused the pharaoh to allow the Israelites to leave Egypt.
A third incident that illustrates that God is patient, but not infinitely patient, is recorded in Exodus 32. This scripture is the culmination of a series of incidents in which the Israelites demonstrated a lack of faith in God and/or Moses, beginning soon after they fled from Egypt. This scripture indicates that God seriously considered destroying all the Israelites, with the exception of Moses and probably some members of Moses’ extended family, but God relented after Moses pleaded with Him in behalf of all the Israelites.
We are aware of only one, or possibly two, incidents recorded in the Bible that infer that God was impatient. The incident(s) involved Jesus Christ (God the Son), rather than God the Father. In context, Matthew 21:12 states that, after entering the temple in Jerusalem during the last week of His earthly life, Jesus “drove out all those who bought and sold in the temple, and overturned the table of the moneychangers and the seats of those who sold doves.” And, Mark 11:15 provides an almost identical account. John 2:14-16 likewise reports such an incident, but the context indicates that the incident occurred near the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, rather than during the last week of His earthly life. As a result, there is some uncertainty as to whether there were two such incidents or only one. In any case, these scriptures imply that Jesus Christ did not demonstrate patience toward the people who were profiting financially from the affairs of the temple. This raises the question as to why Jesus was impatient in this regard, but since the Bible does not state why Jesus acted quickly, rather than patiently, we can only speculate as to the reason.
We believe the Bible is clear that God the Father is patient, but it is not clear as to the reason(s) why Jesus Christ (God the Son) was impatient on at least one occasion, However, it seems reasonable to assume that, on that particular occasion, Jesus thought immediate action was necessary, because delaying action would not allow Him to deal with the problem on a timely basis, especially if the incident occurred during what Jesus knew would be the last week of His earthly life. In any case, although we can trust that God – the Holy Spirit, as well as the Father and the Son – generally will be patient, we should not presume that God will have infinite patience with regard to every matter.
And, although the Bible teaches that we as humans should strive to be patient, there is no biblical basis to believe that God wants us to exercise infinite patience, except with regard to what we expect from Him. As for matters that do not pertain to what we expect from God, the Bible does not provide guidelines as to how long we should be patient. Therefore, when dealing with such matters, we would be wise to seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit in determining how long we should be patient.