Impatience & Arrogance

“Torah Scribe”, by Maurycy Gottlieb, 1876

“Patience is a virtue, and I want it now!” Or so goes a common joke. But seriously, it’s frustrating being patient, and especially learning patience, but have you ever considered how impatience is really driven by arrogance? When I’m impatient with someone, I essentially say that my desires are more important than theirs, that I take priority. And honestly, even if my desires actually are more critical than someone else’s in a particular situation, does getting impatient ever help the situation? Not that I’ve seen.

Yet, we tend, in our culture, to be very impatient with God when it comes to His revelation in Scripture. Too often, skeptics – and even Christians – dismiss parts of the Bible that aren’t immediately obvious to them. Christian theologians over the centuries have devoted their lives to studying the Bible, and the Jews studied the Torah for centuries before that; and yet we sometimes think that if it isn’t fully understandable in five minutes, it’s a waste of time. However, we don’t have the same opinion of things like learning music, or calculus, or art, or really anything else. Rather, we fully expect worthwhile subjects to take a long time to understand, and maybe a lifetime to master. So what does it say about us when we have so little patience for learning theology – the study of God? I suggest that it’s arrogance on our part based on how little we really value the Word of God. Of course, I don’t expect the skeptic to value it, but it is disappointing to see so many apathetic Christians willing to dismiss tough sayings in the Bible so casually. Then again, tough sayings are what Jesus used in John 6 to weed out the “fans” from the serious disciples [John 6:60, 66-67]. But woe to those He finds to be only fans.

Even if we do awake from our slumber and spend our lives in pursuing a deeper knowledge of God, will we figure out all those troublesome verses? Not necessarily, and I’m OK with that. Here’s why. Ever since Newton’s time, we have had a good, but very incomplete, understanding of two of the most basic things in the universe: gravity and light. Are they particles or waves? Scientists observed properties that fit both categories for both entities, and have had to just live with a paradox – a wave-particle duality.[1] For instance, regarding light, Albert Einstein stated: “It seems as though we must use sometimes the one theory and sometimes the other, while at times we may use either. We are faced with a new kind of difficulty. We have two contradictory pictures of reality; separately neither of them fully explains the phenomena of light, but together they do.” Recently, evidence was found that seems to have confirmed gravity is a wave [2], but several generations of scientists have had to live their entire lives not knowing the answer to that question. Newton could describe the effects of gravity on objects via his universal law of gravitation, but he couldn’t explain how those effects were actually accomplished. And neither could anyone else with certainty for the next 3 centuries. Even now, future evidence may be found that contradicts how we interpreted the “gravity wave” emanating from a distant black hole collision in 2016. And yet, those scientists,┬ápast and present, did not think there was no answer to paradoxical things like light and gravity, or that the answer wasn’t worth seeking. Rather, they sought it all the more diligently. Somehow, though, we have the audacity to think that a difficult biblical passage doesn’t warrant a little humility and extra effort on our part? It takes us centuries to figure out the details of some of the basic operations of the physical universe, and we expect the Creator of that universe to be simpler to figure out? I don’t see that as a reasonable assumption. On the contrary, it stands to reason that the One who created the universe is greater than His creation, and that an infinite being might be a little beyond the grasp of His finite creatures.

In closing, I would encourage you to work through the tough questions; study, research, wrestle with them, and seek the answers from the Author of both the easy and the difficult passages. But don’t ignore the obvious answers you do have in front of you because you haven’t found an agreeable answer to your particular question on a more obscure issue. Don’t focus, as too many do, on secondary issues as reasons to reject God, while conveniently ignoring the primary questions the Bible does answer clearly. Don’t reject the God who must necessarily exist simply because you can’t reconcile two seemingly contradictory passages in His message to us. For in the Bible, we have something that, taken as a whole, explains the human condition better than any other worldview, even if we don’t understand every part of it exhaustively. And that should temper our impatience and its underlying arrogance, and remind us of our finitude and the wisdom of humility.


The Design of Evangelism

Jonah Calling Nineveh to Repentance – Gustav Dore

As I sit here in Siguatepeque, Honduras, I have a question for you: why does God use us to spread His message? Why bother with humans as part of His plan? Why not just show Himself to every human directly and eliminate the “middle man”? After all, I’ve had skeptics tell me they would become Christians if God just did some miraculous demonstration (of their choosing) to convince them. Wouldn’t overcoming their objections with direct revelation be better than what He’s done? I suspect my skeptical friends would still reject God even if He appeared to them directly, just as people rejected Jesus when He was performing signs and wonders in front of them, but still, what might be His design? Design is all about choices aligned to accomplish a purpose, so let’s look at some possible explanations.

  1. That choice to use humans as part of His plan could be to force us to have some skin in the game. No matter your good intentions, you just don’t care as much about something when you’re not personally invested in it.
  2. That choice could be an act of love, for it is an act of love to allow someone to partake in your valued activities. God allows us to be part of His activity of drawing people to Him. Consider an example. If you’re working on your car, and your kid wants to help, you know he’s not going to be mistaken for a member of a NASCAR pit crew, and may be more of a hindrance than if you did it all yourself, but letting your kid help is about more than just accomplishing the task at hand efficiently. It’s about using that time to talk to your kid and teach them important life lessons in the process of working on the car. Can God not do the same with us?
  3. That kind of choice could be a demonstration of His sovereignty and supreme power in that the vast majority of those whom He draws to Himself will come to Him via interactions with very fallible instruments – us Christians. While God can appear to someone directly (like Moses or the apostle Paul), most of us come to know God through preachers, teachers, evangelists, missionaries, friends, neighbors, or even friendly strangers caring enough to tell us the best news we could ever hear. It could very well be that much of our praise of God throughout eternity will be driven by learning just how beautifully He orchestrated our salvation. 

All of these can work together to accomplish God’s purposes of saving those that will be saved, and growing them into strong and mature servants that will glorify Him now and throughout eternity. The question is whether we will accept the gift, the privilege, and the responsibility of sharing in God’s work.