Our Loving God (Part 04) – He Who is Patient and Kind

True love.  It’s what we all long for deep in the recesses of our being.  It is why we are stirred by stories of great sacrifice by persons for one another and inspirational forgiveness by those who are wronged.  We desire, whether we are consciously aware of it or not, to be loved with a love that knows no limits.   Only an infinite being can truly love with no limits.  As great as human love can be, it is nonetheless limited and those we wish to love us are not perfect.  That’s not to say that human love is not wonderful.  It is and make no mistake about it – we need human love.  Many of us can recall people in our lives, whether they be parents, siblings, friends, aunts, uncles, coworkers, fellow churchgoers, or even total strangers, who have poured the sweet nectar of love from their hearts into our own and, in doing so, have invigorated our lives, given us strength, and helped us become more loving people ourselves. 

However, we also can recall those people whose personal misery and destructive bitterness wrought havoc in our hearts.  They may have abused us verbally, physically, sexually, emotionally or spiritually.  People like this make you feel shameful about who you are and deaden you on the inside.  It is especially tragic for us when these bitter people are those whom we have given a great trust such as parents, teachers, or ministers.  And, sometimes, it is well-meaning people’s twisted understanding of what love really is that poisons our minds and makes us question whether love is all it’s cracked up to be, or whether we can really trust someone who claims to love us.

So what exactly IS love?  And what does it mean to say that God’s essence IS love?  And how does God love us in a way such that selfishness does not taint our experience of it and in a way such that He heals us from hurts those people we just referred to have inflicted on us?  It is the experience of God Himself – True Love – which is the beginning of all healing and the inner transformation that accompanies it which makes us into the loving images of Himself He intended us to be.  Let’s take a look at what the Apostle Paul said true love looks like and then we will gain insight as to the answers to these questions.

We saw in the last article on this topic that in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 Paul gives us a list of qualities or characteristics that are true of love.  It really is a listing of how love acts, so, first, let’s define what love IS.  Love is a qualitative experience of interpersonal relationships in which one person seeks to bring about the ultimate happiness of the other.  This may be a bit different than what you’ve heard before, but the essence of what love IS comprises not of some “thing”, but of the actual dynamic that takes place between the persons of the Trinity.  The Being we call God is a relationship – a relationship between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit – a divine community in which each member of the Trinity meets the other’s needs and seeks to bring them the utmost of happiness (for those of you fundies who get nervous with the word happiness, think of its functional equivalent – blessedness).  True, pure, selfless love could be defined then as the qualitative experience of the interpersonal relationships between the three members of the Trinity in which the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit seek to bring about the ultimate happiness of each other. The way each member of the Trinity treats each other is what we call “love” and that is what Paul is describing in 1 Corinthians 13. 

Okay, that’s the philosophical, technical part, but it’s important for you to know what love IS so that you know what we mean when we say that God IS love.  To put it another way, to state what love IS in its true, purest form is the same as stating what God IS.  Now that we’ve defined love, the apostle begins to describe what love does – in our terminology, he is describing that interpersonal dynamic that one person expresses to another and that finds its purest expression within the Trinity.  Paul begins by saying that love is patient.  You will hear preachers talk about “biblical patience” as being the ability to endure trials, but that is not what the Greek word here means.  Love is patient, patient with people.  Patience is not giving up on someone regardless of how many times they fail and how long it takes them to “get it” and it is displayed in the story of the Prodigal Son by the father who watched and waited until his lost son finally came home.  William Barclay, world-renowned Greek scholar and Bible commentator of the 20th century, described another aspect of patience in personal relationship when he wrote, “[It] is the word which is used of the man who is wronged and who has it easily in his power to avenge himself and who yet will not do it.  It describes the man who is slow to anger” (Barclay, 1956). 

The sad fact is that fundamentalist Christianity has painted a picture in the American mindset of a vengeful God who is always ticked off and ready punish, judge, condemn, and destroy all those who oppose him.  According to Paul, nothing could be further from the truth.  God is not trying to restrain Himself from launching destruction on America or any other country for sins committed, because God – True Love – is patient!  Contrary to fallible human love which often disappoints us or, worse, hurts us, God does not “run out of patience.”  God is an infinite being and thus cannot ever stop being patient.  He will never come to a place where He says to you, “That’s it!  I’ve had it!  I’m done with you!  I give up on you!”  Instead, He is calmly waiting for us to realize that the love available to us is free, is unconditional, and is what will satisfy the deepest longings of our hearts.  And He is willing to wait forever.  Think about that for second.  He will wait forever if that’s how long it takes for you to discover and experience His love for you!  What could be more beautiful?

You see, He is not hovering over you, waiting to strike you for something that you’ve done that is wrong, but is waiting in love until you realize that you won’t find life apart from Him and that through repentance you can return again to fellowship with Him.  When you feel like God has had it with you because you keep messing up with the same thing over and over again or because you ran away from Him years ago and now feel as if you could never be loved again, remember:  God is patient!  He is waiting for you to return to the safety of His loving arms and hear Him whisper into your ear, “I will never give up on you and you will never be so far from me that my love cannot overcome the distance between my heart and yours.  I will wait as long as it takes for my love to penetrate your illusions and your brokenness until it brings wholeness to your heart.  I love you, my child, always and forever!”

If you are a fundamentalist or come from that background, you may find these descriptions shocking.  You see, the god of fundamentalism is a myth that was invented by people who themselves had obviously not known true love.  They were people who did not encounter True Love in all His fullness, because had they done so, they would have realized that the mean, bitter god that they so often describe is nothing but a product and projection of their own unloved hearts.  As Anne Lamott quotes a priest friend of hers, “You can safely assume you’ve created God in your own image when He hates all the same people you do” (Lamott, 1995).  No where can this be seen any more clearly than in the extremist wings of the radical religious right.  They (i.e. Pat Roberston) believe in a god who is ready to send earthquakes to condemn an entire island of people for something a few of their ancestors did centuries ago.  This so-called god is not worthy of worship and is simply a symptom of these people’s demented, loveless understanding of the divine.  So, if you hail from that background or, like me, were traumatized by it, then you will find it shocking, healing, and liberating that the God Who is love is none of the aforementioned.

Then Paul writes that love is kind.  This word really could be translated “sweetness” (Barclay,  1956).  Have you ever met a person who was very, shall we say, moral?  They do all the “right things” and seem to be above reproach, but they’re not really the nicest people.  They would never be described by someone as “sweet.”  Then there are those people who may not seem to have it all together, but there is a genuine warmth and sweetness to the way they relate to you.  The former is the result of legalism, the latter the result of intimacy with True Love Himself.  You see, a person is not loving if they don’t have this warmth of personality that they communicate in their relating to you.  Kind people are sweet and gentle in the way they handle someone, especially when they are disciplining and/or correcting them.  Sarcastic and critical spirits have not been nurtured by love.  They are caustic, and are this way because they have not encountered the warm, sweet, kind spirit of love in a life-changing way. 

God is sweet.  A sweet spirit that is warm and welcoming instead of harsh, punishing and condeming.  Sadly, and often because of their experience with a false Christianity during their upbringing, many people see God as that moralistic person who never smiles and is not very nice instead of the very essence of sweetness itself.  Remember this:  when God is speaking to your heart, it will not be with that harsh, critical voice that so many of us have been taught He uses.  You know, the voice He supposedly used with Charlton Heston on Mount Sinai in the Ten Commandments movie!  Think of someone you know who is gentle and soft-spoken.  They are light-hearted and docile in the way they relate to you.  This is the way God is with us.  He is not vindictive or mean.  When you hear messages in your heart and mind that are the opposite of this, know that they are not from God, but from internalized critical voices from your encounters with people who, sadly, were just taking out on you the frustration they felt in the emptiness of their own unloved hearts.  God’s messages to you, regardless of their content, will fill you with the awareness of the sweetness of spirit that is God Himself.

We’ll stop there for now.  Meditate on the fact that the God who IS love is forever patient with you and infinitely sweet!  Praise God that the One we long for to be loving and kind to us is, indeed, the very Being we need Him to be!

References

Barclay, W. (1956).  The daily study bible series: The letters to the Corinthians.  Philadelphia: Westminster Press.

Lamott, A. (1995).  Bird by bird: Some instructions on writing and life. New York:  Anchor Books.

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10 thoughts on “Our Loving God (Part 04) – He Who is Patient and Kind

  1. hmm…i grew up in a strict christian home and have been kind of turned off to the whole thing and so what u wrote about god being sweet doesn’t compute with me…i’m not saying your wrong (i hope your right) its just i guess diffrent looking at him like that..idk maybe my mom and stepdad just thought he was holy and all that..hard to see him being both at the same time but you’ve made me think. thanks, stef.

  2. I’m with tcugrad. I went to church each week and all the preacher ever talked about was how much God was angry with people and how the end times were coming soon and how we better be right with God or else! I’ve been trying to relearn things from a different point of view the last couple years and this series has been right in line with what I’ve been learning (i’ve read all four parts). I guess we can really say God is a big, giant sweetheart?? lol. Why do you think so many people tend to see God as a mean person in church these days?

  3. Howdy Jordan! Youve gotta a lotta good ideas about our holy God’s precious love towards us, but as a pastor I must caution you not to make Him seem like some sorta cosmic teddy bear as teh last person was saying. God’s also a God of wrath and justice and the Word clearly teaches there is coming a day when yes the whole earth will see His wrath made manifested and THIS WILL BE PART OF HIS GLORY!!!! A study of our great God shoudl not leave this fact out. I know a lot of people say that pastors go overboard adn sure some do but that doesnt mean you throw the baby out with the bathwater as they say. A Biblical perspective MUST include both otherwise people will go off and sin like the son of the devil himself if they think God is just going to sit back and love em no matter what. It may not be popular these days but I dont get paid to be a preacher to be popular. It’s all about being faithful to the Word and so thats my thoughts.

  4. @Stef (tcugrad07): Many people have the experience of equating Christianity with strict, authoritarian parenting. This is unfortunate because as children we internalize the way our parents or primary caregivers treat us and project it onto God. God is out to do what’s best for you and the harsh, strict way of dealing with people is not at all in his character. Such would not be sweet!

    @Hayden: Thanks for your comments and I’m glad that you didn’t give up on God and are reapproaching things from a different angle. I’ve had to do the same and in the new series coming out in this next week on universal reconciliation you will see part of that story. I think the idea of God as mean is really a product of people’s own hearts. They have never really encountered the love of God in that sweet, patient way and so they’re still full of anger and condescension. Remember, a person’s spiritual fruits (see Galatians 5 and 1 John) are the result of their fellowship with God. If a person is not exhibiting the heart of God in the way they relate to others, they have either not experienced His love or are still growing in that particular area. I think a lot of suits that occupy American pulpits are just men who went to school and learned a lot of propositional theology and don’t know the first thing about what it is like to be loved by God experientially. I’m not saying all, or even most, but many. And yes, God is most definitely a sweetheart! 🙂

    @Pastor Bill: I’m glad that you appreciate my thoughts on God’s love and I figured that someone would eventually comment on these posts with the whole “Yes, God is love, BUT He’s also holy” line. Bill, think about it this way. There cannot be a contradiction in God. Since His very essence IS love, His holiness or His justice must be congruent with that fact. Justice must be one particular expression of love. I’m going to be addressing this issue more in depth in the new series I’m starting this week. I willing to venture that your idea of holiness is more in line with the western legalistic understanding just from the way you talk about it and I mean no offense by that. See the post “Translating Christianese” for my ideas regarding what holiness really is (wholeness).

    Contrary to what you may believe, it is the experience of the love of God that makes us want to love Him back (1 John 4:19). A person who uses His love as an excuse to live a lifestyle that is destructive to both himself and others has clearly only understood God’s love as head knowledge. There are two forces in religion that can transform people: love or fear. They cannot co-exist in the same heart (see part 03 of this series). Fear produces behavioral change through suppression while love produces inner transformation that will result in behavioral change. You can look at a love-changed person and a fear-changed person and see, at times, very similar objective behavioral patterns, but it’s the person who’s been healed by love that will have the tender sweetness of spirit and gracefulness about the way they treat others. The fear-changed person will be critical, judgmental, and lacking in love toward other people. They’ll be emotionally rigid and not experiencing true victory on the inside, though they will tell themselves that they are. That’s what I was saying to Hayden above when I talked about the fruits of a person’s life. They are character/emotional/interrelational dynamics and it is in RELATIONSHIPS that one gets to observe them and their quality.

    I understand that you think you are just being faithful to the bible, but I encourage you to consider the fact that there are other views and ways of understanding the concepts that you put forth, much like Hayden is learning I’m sure. Thanks for commenting and I hope you continue to be involved in the dialogue in the days ahead!

  5. i dont know about you but i ain’t never seen somebody angry who was sweet when you get mad you ready to kill someone not be like ‘aw come here sweety’ ya know what i’m saying? yeah gods love but i dont agree that he dont run out of patience at some point every bodys got their limit

  6. BGN,

    I would be an example of a person who still tries to be sweet even when she’s angry (though I’m not always successful). When my kids try my patience I try to remain sweet and gentle while at the same time being firm. I think some people confuse being firm with being mean. Being mean is when you are trying to hurt someone back like getting so angry you “want to kill someone.” It makes me think of James 1:20 which says “for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.” We just read this in Bible study last night. I think a lot of times we take the way we are and assume that’s the way God is too, like Tom was saying. If we all can become sweeter even when we get mad, maybe it won’t be so hard to believe that God’s that way too.

    Yours,
    Honeybee

  7. Hey man! Found your site thru one of your comments on the Christian heretic site. I like your writing. I’m not sure I agree with everything, but I’m sort of figuring out what I believe right now like a couple other people that posted. I grew up in a Unitarian Church where basically every belief was accepted. My senior year of high school a friend of mine invited to his church youth group and after a couple of months I got convinced that I needed to accept Jesus as my Lord and Savior. Long story short, I did a disipleship group with the youth pastor and my friend and his buddies who became my friends as well. I was pretty sure that I had my beliefs set until I got into college which is where I am now and found out that a lot of Christians disagree on a lot of things. I’m not like Unitarian again or anything bc I definitely believe something has to be true, but I’m kinda taking a step back and looking at things more deeply to try and make sense of all the different theologies, ya know??? Anyhoo, I thought your definition of love in this article was pretty cool. I never thought of love being defined by the Trinity. My question is this: How could we then be thought of as loving other people when we’re not God??? I mean I know we do love each other but is it the same or different??? I hope I’m making sense haha. Well anyway just wanted to hit you up and say I like your site and ask you that question.
    ~BJ 🙂

  8. BGN ~ Honeybee pretty much said it all in her reply. I would submit to you that we have to stop judging God by the way people act and instead understand Him through the way Jesus was. Jesus was a sweet man and was very caring even in times where he was disciplining someone (such as Peter in John 20/21??) or confronting sin (the woman caught in adultery in John 8). Like I said in the article, God is an eternal being and thus His love is without beginning or end and so, I deduce that his patience is eternal as well. Thanks for your comment and thanks to you, honeybee, for sharing your experience.

    BJ ~ Glad you found the site! I emphathize with you on trying to figure things out. One of my newer ideas for the blog is springing out of my own personal life where I’m really at a loss as to what to believe on a lot of things. There are certain things I’ve resolved, but a lot remains unsettled. It is out of this that I’m considering writing a series that will be like a journal of a study I’m planning on doing in reading the ante-nicene church fathers (those that lived and wrote before the Council of Nicea). I’ve become quite disenchanted with the bewildering conglomeration of theologies presented within protestantism. I think that getting back to some of the early tradition might help to unravel some of the mysteries.

    Regarding your question on the type of love we have. Love is love regardless of the source. In order for us to love someone, we must have a desire that can be described as a sense of “wanting” to do something for another that will bless them. When we act on this desire, it must be freely chosen, not coerced, but something we desire because of who we are and what the person means to us. Compulsive behavior is not love.

    That is what love is (at its most irreducible level – certainly it’s more complex than that) and it doesn’t matter who it is that loves. Anyone that seeks the best of another simply for that person’s blessedness (or happiness) simply because of their desire to see them in a blessed state is truly loving. The way that the members of the Trinity treat each other is what we call love and thus we say that we love each other when our actions, thoughts, and feelings match up with those expressed within the Triune God. We do not love in a different way than the trinity loves except in the measure of the wholeness (holiness) of our love. Because of our brokenness (sinfulness), our love is often mired with selfish ambition or pathological manipulation. The more we mature into the likeness of God’s heart in Christ, the more our love will be purified and the selfishness will be separated out (this process is called sanctification and it is the process by which one becomes holy or whole. The biblical word could literally be translated as “separated.” But it is not separated in the sense of being separatistic in a puritan sense, but separated from that which keeps them from being whole). I hope that answers your question and I hope you to see you around as we both figure this Jesus thing out together. Thanks BJ!

  9. Thanks man! I think its cool. Its the firts time I seen somebody have some basis for their definition of love. If you ask people on the street what love is they all have their own definition but here you tie it to something objective. Love is the way God is and acts. And like you said its gotta be by free will. Thanks for clearing that up for me!

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