In many ways, this is an extension of last week’s attribute: love. In some quarters, it is considered to be an extension of the attribute: goodness. As we get into the definitions, you will see how God’s goodness and love overlap into mercy, grace and patience or long-suffering.
For starters, let’s look at the differences between these three attributes.
- Mercy: God’s goodness to those in misery and distress.
- Grace: God’s goodness to those who deserve only punishment.
- Patience: God’s goodness in withholding of punishment toward those who sin over a period of time.
As we have discussed before, all these attributes are interwoven into a unity. God’s unity in simplicity is where all His attributes are united in the One GOD. They aren’t separated out into individual pieces, but interwoven more like a piece of cloth only with threads going in more than two directions, criss-crossing, diagonal, interlacing and uniting to make something that is both strong and beautiful with contrasts that make their opposite all the stronger!
For example, think of a perfect love that is made all the more perfect because it is balanced with perfect justice and truth. This is not the syrupy sentimentalism of an imperfect love that caves in when justice is needed or when truth must be spoken in love. This is a love that truly cares about the best for the other person even if it costs the lover in comfort. If I must be uncomfortable at times to speak truth or mete justice when I know it is for their best interest. The lover also must consider the one loved and decide if this is an appropriate time to do this. Just as one wouldn’t publicly discipline their child, but take them to another room, away from an audience as they discuss what happened, why it was wrong and mete out appropriate punishment if that is needed, so a lover considers timing when correcting or speaking to issues relating to the one loved.
In terms of these three traits, mercy, grace and patience, they are often mentioned together in the Old Testament. One place that is particularly telling and where so many of God’s attributes appear at once, is the giving of the Ten Commandments. The first tablets were given in Exodus 20. In chapter 24, Moses told the people all the laws and rules and their impulsive answer to them was, ” All the words that the Lord has spoken we will do.” (vs. 3) They were so foolish. There was no way they could keep all those Laws. No one knew that better than GOD!
Moses went up to the mountain for the rest of the Law. Before GOD was finished giving him all the Law, the people were already making and worshiping the Golden Calf! Of course, GOD saw it all and sent Moses back to the people who had already corrupted themselves. (Exodus 32:7-14) Then Moses went down the mountain with the two tablets and threw them down! After this disaster and the punishment given the people, their repentance, and GOD’s revelation of His goodness to Moses that this verse comes to us. GOD is giving Moses a second set of tablets and He is renewing the covenant with His people. Exodus 34:6-7; Hebrews 4:15-16.
An important thing to remember about GOD’s grace is that He never gives it out of obligation. He has given this undeserved gift freely. For many of us, that makes it all the more difficult to receive! That is especially true if we have any awareness of how much we do NOT deserve this gift! Some Scriptures regarding this aspect of GOD are: Exodus 33:19; Romans 3:23-24; I Peter 5:10-11.
PATIENCE / LONG-SUFFERING/ SLOW TO ANGER
As for patience, any of these synonyms will work. When it comes to our putting it into practice, it is talking about being patient in suffering for Christ. It is also talking about being slow to anger…something many of us struggle with!
But not GOD! Despite the fact that He is holy and just and perfect…He is also slow to anger and patient. How often do we see that combination in real life? NEVER! Which is another reason why it is so mind-blowing to think about GOD and His attributes or His “personality”. It is almost impossible for us to conceptualize. I wonder if that is just another reason why the command was given about not making images of GOD? Because any of our “images” are so much smaller than the reality of who GOD really is! Our images are too limiting. GOD does not want that for us.
A final quote from Wayne Grudem in his book Systematic Theology:
Our confidence that the Lord will soon fulfill His purposes for our good and His glory will enable us to be patient. (cf. James 5:7-8)
This simple phrase is a reminder of GOD’s love for us, His grand and good purposes, and the fact that He is working at all times to grow us in the ways that are for our good and His glory. As we learn to trust Him and that these are the purposes He is working in our lives, we WILL learn patience. We will also learn trust, faith, endurance as well.
This Holy Week is a wonderful week to think about the mercy, grace and patience that GOD has shown to us.
- We who are so undeserving, have received His goodness in the form of His mercy, as a people who are in misery and distress;
- We who deserved only punishment, have received His goodness in the form of His grace;
- We who have sinned against Him over a period of time, have received His goodness in the form of a His patience and long-suffering as He withheld from us the punishment we deserved.
As we think about our relationships, especially the troublesome ones,it will be good to think about how we can give this love He gave us, to others around us. No, it isn’t easy, but it is right and as His children who are now in Christ because of the Cross and the Resurrection, we have available to us the strength to do what is right and good to others around us. May GOD help us all!
During this Holy Week, let us remember the story: on the cross, Christ accomplished the payment for our sin and redeemed us…taking our place before the Father to pay our debt. On that first Easter, He rose from the dead showing He was victorious over death and sin.
Hallelujah! He is risen!
He is risen indeed!
(This greeting was given to us at our garage sale last weekend by one of the ladies as she left. She waited for us to return the second line back to her. Then she smiled and went on her way.
What a delightful feeling of solidarity to have with a stranger: the common joy at the Resurrection of Christ from the dead! We share that with every believer throughout history as well as throughout the world. Hallelujah!)