Christians can learn that they must exercise patience simply by observing God’s own example. He himself is our first model of patience.
He patiently scatters equally over both the just and unjust the blossoms of this world’s light (see Mt 5:45). He patiently allows the benefits of the seasons, the services of the natural elements, the tributes of all nature, to be enjoyed at once by both the worthy and the unworthy.
He bears with the most ungrateful nations, even those who worship the works of their own hands, persecuting His name together with His family. He puts up with their daily extravagance, avarice, iniquity, malice, insolence.
In fact, He does all this even though His long-suffering actually allows people to mock Him: They assume that if there’s no visible proof of divine anger toward the world, then God must not exist (see 1 Pt 3:3-4,9).
In Christ we also see evidence of God’s patience. For God allowed himself to be conceived in a mother’s womb and to wait patiently nine months until the time for His birth. After He was born, He patiently bore the long years of growing up. Then, having grown up, He wasn’t eager to be recognized, but humbled himself to be baptized by His own servant.
Christ patiently repelled with words alone the assaults of the tempter. The One who is Lord became the patient Teacher, training us to escape death. As the prophet said, He did not contend; He did not cry aloud; His voice was not heard in the streets. He didn’t break the bruised reed; He didn’t quench the smoldering wick (see Is 42:2-3; Mt 12:19-20).
There were none who wanted to join themselves to Christ whom He didn’t patiently receive. He despised no one’s table or roof. In fact, He himself washed the disciples’ feet.
He didn’t turn away sinners. He didn’t grow angry at the city that refused Him hospitality, even when the disciples wanted to call down fire from heaven on such a wicked town (see Lk 9:51-56). He cared for the ungrateful; He gave himself up to those who captured Him. Even though His betrayer came with them, He steadfastly refrained from pointing him out.
While He was being betrayed, “like a lamb led to the slaughter, he was silent and opened not his mouth” (Is 42:7). Had He willed it, at His word legions of angels would have come down from the heavens. But He refused to permit even one disciple an avenging sword (see Jn 18:10-12).
I will pass by in silence the fact that He allowed himself to be crucified.
Long-suffering of this kind no mere man could achieve. He was also God, and patience is God’s nature.
Make God the one who receives your patience as a valuable deposit. He is abundantly capable of providing you interest. If you deposit in His care a wrong that someone has done to you, He will be your Avenger. If you deposit with Him a personal loss, He will be your Restorer. Give Him your pain; He is a Healer; commit to Him even your death; He is the One who raises from the dead.
What honor is granted to Patience, to have God as her Debtor! And not without reason: for she keeps all His decrees; she has to do with all His mandates. She fortifies faith; she is the pilot of peace.
She assists charity; she establishes humility; she waits long for repentance. She sets her seal on confession; she rules the flesh; she preserves the spirit. She bridles the tongue; restrains the hand; tramples temptations under foot; drives away scandals; gives the crowning grace to martyrs; consoles the poor; teaches the rich moderation.
She never overpowers the weak; she never exhausts the strong. She is the delight of the believer, and she invites the unbeliever. She adorns the woman and makes the man approved.
Patience is loved in childhood, praised in youth, looked up to in old age. She is beautiful in either sex, and in every time of life.
Tertullian (c. 160-c. 225), known as the “father of Latin theology,” was an African convert to the Christian faith and the author of numerous apologetic, theological and spiritual works in both Latin and Greek. This excerpt is adapted from his essay “On Patience” (c. 202).