Ian’s mom was understandably frustrated, but maybe not as much as all the campground neighbors. “Ian, get off that. Ian, stop hitting him. Ian, come here. Ian … !”
He was probably five or six years old, shouting constantly and at everyone, running everywhere, jumping on everything, repetitively hitting his brothers as well as his grandma. If his parents came near him, he simply ran the other direction.
Ian knew he didn’t have to stop. There were no consequences for his actions. He got yelled at, but any attempt at discipline was limited to public humiliation and scorn. Now, in his parents defense, he was the 4th of 5 kids in the family and he had probably spent much of the day traveling, but there was a pervasive lack of control and discipline. Each of the kids were poorly behaved; Ian just excelled at it.
To be honest, I found it difficult not to go over to share some, shall we say, friendly advice. As I restrained myself from such compassionate assistance, I realized that the family had my attention and probably my silent rebuke, but they didn’t have my prayers. How sad.
Then, with my Pharisee-like attitude fully puffed, God grabbed my attention, reminding me of how long-suffering He is with me. He reminded me of how many times He has said, “Jimmy, stop doing that … Jimmy, leave that alone … Jimmy, get down off my throne … Jimmy, come here to me. Jimmy … !” God used the misbehavior of a little boy to demonstrate my spiritual waywardness.
God is very patient, and very long-suffering with us. He often gives us time to return to Him. Isaiah 30:18 teaches us of this characteristic of God, “Therefore the Lord is waiting to show you mercy, and is rising up to show you compassion, for the Lord is a just God. All who wait patiently for him are happy.” Other scriptures such as Ezekiel 33:11 and 1 Peter 3:20 further teach that the purpose of His patience is to provide opportunity for repentance and salvation.
But make no mistake: His long-suffering is not tolerance or acceptance of our sin and waywardness. He is not ignoring our rebellion, hoping it will go away. Unlike Ian’s parents, there are consequences for ignoring and running from God.
For those who are in Christ, our sin and rebellion cause us to lose fellowship with God. While our salvation and eternal relationship remain firm, the closeness that we experience may be broken. Even our prayers may not be answered. Furthermore, we should expect His discipline. Hebrews 12:5–6 reminds us to, “… not take the Lord’s discipline lightly or lose heart when you are reproved by Him, for the Lord disciplines the one He loves and punishes every son He receives.”
For those who are not in Christ, there will be a day of judgment. We, who know this truth and have the gospel message of salvation, must care enough to bring this good news to them. Sharing the gospel is not judgmental or intolerant of another’s beliefs and behaviors; it’s a life-changing message of hope. But, it’s only good news if it gets there in time.
God is a just God. The fullness of His justice and wrath were poured out on Jesus on the cross. 2 Corinthians 5:21 vividly reminds us that, “He (God the Father) made the One who did not know sin (God the Son, Jesus) to be sin for us so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.” There is no other way to avoid the penalty of sin. There is no other way to relationship with God. In this substitionary atonement, we see His justice as well as His love, and mercy, and grace poured out on those who are in Christ.
Do not confuse God’s long-suffering with tolerance. God is patient, but He is on His throne. His timing, His justice, His mercy, and His love are perfect and will never fail.