Question: "What does it mean that God is patient?"

Answer: The attribute of God’s patience is evident in both the Old and New Testaments. One example comes from God Himself, who proclaimed to Moses, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness” (Exodus 34:6). The phrase slow to anger illustrates His patience. The psalmist also praises God as “a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness” (Psalm 86:15).

In the New Testament, the apostle Paul describes God as kind, forbearing, and patient (Romans 2:4). The apostle Peter also referred to God’s patience when addressing objections from scoffers then (extending to now) regarding the second coming: “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead, he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). These are just a few instances of God being described as patient.

When Scripture describes God as being patient, it means that He endures humanity’s flaws, does not easily get angry, and holds back judgment to make room for repentance. His patience is also demonstrated in how He condescended to work through imperfect humans to carry out His plans. Noah, Abraham, Moses, King David, and the prophets are some examples.

Additionally, we view God’s patience toward humans right after the fall, when God made clothing for His shamed creations (Genesis 3:21). He also patiently listened to Cain, even in the face of judgment (Genesis 4:15). Then there is the flood. Scripture describes the inhabitants of the world as being “corrupt in God’s sight and full of violence” (Genesis 6:11). Even with the moral depravity of our day, we would be horrified at the violence of the world in that day. Yet God did not execute swift judgment. Instead, He waited till Noah built the ark, which took a long time (1 Peter 3:20).

In God’s judgment of Sodom and Gomorrah, His patience was revealed when He promised Abraham He would not exercise judgment if there were at least ten righteous people in the city (Genesis 18:32). For context, Sodom and Gomorrah had not only sinned, but there was a great outcry against them (verse 20). Yet God was willing to show mercy to all of them for the sake of only ten people.

Other instances of God’s patience include His dealings with the Canaanites (Genesis 15:16), the Ninevites in Jonah’s day (Jonah 3:10) and the Israelites before their exile (2 Kings 17:13–14). His patience also explains the perceived delay in Jesus’ second coming (2 Peter 3:9, 15).

Perhaps the most exceptional display of God's patience is in the Person of Jesus. The Son of God took on human flesh, lived among His creation, and endured challenges in His ministry. He also patiently succumbed to humiliation at the cross in order to accomplish His redemptive work for humanity.

Like any other attribute of God, His patience surpasses ours. While this is good news for the struggling believer or those reaching out to an unbelieving loved one, it can also lead to frustration. Like the martyred saints in Revelation 6:10, believers may cry out “How long, Lord?” How long will we remain in the broken world? How long till restoration? How long till we are free from the clutches of sin and suffering? How long do we endure? But even in our perplexed state, we trust that God is absolutely in control and infinitely good.