Pastoral Perspectives

The Patience Of God

Peter writes: “The Lord is not slow to fulfil his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” (2Peter 3:9) This verse brings forth truth of God’s grace to sinners but has also stirred up controversy. On the one hand, there are some who say that God wishes for all to reach repentance and waits patiently but it is ultimately up to them to do so. On the other hand, there are those who insist that it is the elect that God does not wish any to perish because he has chosen only them for salvation. So we find another verse here among many others in the Bible that provides ground for argument between the Arminian and the Calvinist camp. The problem with the first is that it may portray a God who pines away in despair over those who choose not to repent and he could do nothing about it because of the so-called ‘free will’. The problem with the second is that it may present a God who does not love the non-elect and may even harden their hearts in order to bring about salvation to his elect and thereby adding unto their guilt. And so the argument rages on.

Allow me to share my perspective on this. What does the Bible say about God and mankind? Paul sums up what the OT says about mankind: there is none righteous, not even one; there is none who understands, there is none who seeks for God (Romans 3:10-11), and describes all as dead in their sins (Ephesians 2:1-3). Reformed theology calls this total depravity of men, meaning that if it were up to the will of men to choose, no one would choose God and be saved! Therefore Paul writes that it is God who chooses people before the foundation of the world and predestines them for adoption as sons according to the purpose of his will (Ephesians 1:4-8), and Paul calls them the elect (Romans 8:33; 2 Timothy 2:10; Titus 1:1). Reformed theology calls this unconditional election, meaning that God chooses freely and his choice is not conditioned by any deeds or merits of men.

What about those that God did not choose? They are guilty of their sin and it is not because God has chosen or made them to be so but simply because they remain in their state of depravity. But why would a good and loving God not choose all to be saved? I honestly doubt I will be able to know why. To borrow the words of last Sunday’s preacher, I suppose God will cease to be God if I do know why. But does God not love them at all? Well, I do know that the Bible affirms God’s love for all and he sees no pleasure in the death of the wicked and would rather that they should turn from their ways and live (John 3:16; Ezekiel 18:23, 32; 33:11). This is my humble perspective of what the Bible says about God and mankind and I admit that it takes faith to believe so.

So how do I deal with the tension between God’s desire that all would come to repentance as this verse testifies and my conviction that only those he chooses would do so? I suppose decree and desire are two separate things, meaning that God may decree for certain things to happen over and above his desire or against his desire. So while God’s desire might be for all Israel to worship him, he decreed that they should do so only in Jerusalem. And while his desire is surely against evil, he decreed that Jesus be delivered by it. Therefore while Scriptures portrays a God who desires for all to repent, it also portrays a God who decrees the ones who will do so. Nevertheless I guess it will always remain difficult for us to explain or understand it satisfactorily until we see God face to face and know for ourselves what Sovereignty truly means. Otherwise we see God in our fallen nature and fail to realise that a holy and just God would choose even some for salvation when all fully deserve to be judged and that he would even send his Son to die for the elect when he can easily re-create everything all over again.

Let me close by revisiting the verse in its original context. When Peter wrote his letter, all these Calvinist and Arminian teachings were not established yet and so his recipients were unlikely to interpret his letter and argued over it the way we do. Peter saw the false teachers as they were because their teachings contradicted Scriptures and they had no desire to honour God through holy and godly living and not because he knew somehow that they were the non-elect. Remember that most of the recipients had come from pagan backgrounds and so there was the possibility that some of the false teachers might also come to saving grace. But if they did not, then their condemnation would be for sure. Likewise, he saw his recipients as believers not because he knew for sure they were the elect but because they had been established in the truth, i.e. they bore fruit of conversion (2 Peter 1:12). In the light of false teachings that could confuse and sway the believers, Peter wrote to remind and admonish them so that they might make their salvation sure and assuring those who might have been taken in by false teachings of God’s patience for them to turn back.

What I want to say is this: when the church is faithful and focused in teaching God’s truths and exposing false teachings, reaching the lost with the gospel and admonishing believers in holiness and godliness, the church is honouring God’s desires and fulfilling his decrees. This is what we should busy ourselves with and we will be able to experience and understand the patience of God.

Rev Ronnie Ang

November 15, 2015