by Kris Wint
The blast and boom of the fireworks was not all that made my heart pound that night as I headed home. Saying goodbye to my then girlfriend (now wife) caused joyful lingering and it was now well past midnight. As I drove back home I remembered the zeal of local police officers and was mindful to make complete stops and go the speed limit (if not a little under). I didn’t even turn my music on to keep my subwoofers from bringing any unwanted attention my way. Even in my caution, my rearview mirror exploded with bright dazzling lights. This time, it wasn’t fireworks; it was police lights.
After a brief exchange, the officer informed me that my license plate light was out. Then, contrary to the fervor I had heard about for their enforcement of the law, he gave me a deal. It was a warning. Fix the light and stop by the police station. However, if I failed to fix the light in time a ticket and fine would ensue. I quickly agreed to the deal, thankful for the kindness and leniency. His response was a demonstration of forbearance at work.
The Bible speaks of forbearance as well. Jesus shares a parable about forbearance illustrating why God would forbear with us. Luke recounts this parable in his gospel. “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. And he said to the vinedresser, ‘Look, for three years now I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and I find none. Cut it down. Why should it use up the ground?’ And he answered him, ‘Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and put on manure. Then if it should bear fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down’” (Luke 13:6-9 ESV).
Clearly, God is full of grace and rich in mercy. His forbearance and patience is at work in all of our lives. I turn away daily toward idols, self-reliance and pride but God waits, not cutting down the tree, but digging around instead. He cultivates growth and calls me back.
Just as in the parable, forbearance has a purpose. God does not endure our sin so that we remain unchanged. Divine forbearance is not tolerating our sin. The verses before the parable tell us the purpose and nature of forbearance, especially verse 4. “No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” Jesus links forbearance with repentance, giving insight into why God forbears with us. His forbearance is so that we would turn from our ways and align ourselves with God.
The police officer extended patience expecting the same: that the broken light would be fixed. What did I do in response? Did I fix the light and drive to the police department? Nope. Somehow, I never got around to it. This kind officer who showed forbearance also then demonstrated his justice and truthfulness when a couple weeks later I got the ticket in the mail as he said I would. What should have only cost about a dollar to fix ended up costing a whole lot more.
In his letter to the Romans, Paul was led by the Holy Spirit to write these words, “Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead to your repentance? But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed” (Romans 2:4-5).
Paul is simply saying the same thing that Jesus did in his parable. God’s forbearance is a suspense of wrath (which will eventually be exercised) unless the sinner repents (accepts God’s conditions). We cannot rely on forbearance alone, taking God’s kindness for granted. But rather God’s forbearance invites us to confession and repentance.
Regardless of the offense–pride, greed, joylessness, lack of compassion, unforgiveness, lust, sexual intimacy outside of marriage between a man and woman, hate, anger, envy–we are all broken and need to repent before our good and holy Creator. When we do Christ takes us and just like the gardener in the parable transforms us into trees that bear fruit. This is patiently enduring for the purpose of cultivating repentance. This is forbearance that I can stand behind and get excited about. This is the forbearance that we should all be thankful for. This is what Christ offers, restoration through repentance for our good and God’s glory.
Kris Wint is lead pastor at Finland Mennonite Church in Pennsburg, PA. This article is part of a series that the Conference has invited in considering responses to the resolutions for Assembly at Kansas City 2015.