Pandemic: The Pursuit of Holy Patience
After more than half a year of the Covid-19 pandemic, we are losing patience and seek a quick fix. But FR RALPH DE HAHN explains why as Christians, we need to exercise holy patience.
While the world is blanketed by the invisible coronavirus, we find this uninvited intrusion has hit the economy of all nations, causing unemployment and even homelessness.
For the past half-year or so, the question posed globally has been: “Can’t God intervene and bring all this to a close?” Of course he can! It would be no problem for the Almighty.
But should we rather not turn to his word in sacred Scripture, the simple Bible, and hear what he offers us.
“My thoughts are not your thoughts, my ways are not your ways. It is the Lord who speaks” (Isaiah 55:8).
Of course the Lord desires the best for his people. Didn’t he create us for his glory? Didn’t he take on human flesh in order to die for us? So why, Lord, the delay in answering the prayer of millions?
Now, as believing Christians, baptised in the Holy
Spirit, we must concede that the all-knowing, all wise Creator knows the why and the when and the how, for he is the Lord of eternity and the Lord of time.
“I know the plans I have in mind for you… plans for peace and not for disaster” (Jeremiah 29:11).
Is he not asking his people to trust him, talk to him—and wait patiently for his reply?
“Our sufferings call for patience, and we know patience brings perseverance, and perseverance brings hope” (Romans 5:4).
Patience! Is that the response God demands of his believing Christians? Could it be that simple?
If that is what we think, then we have missed the point.
“He who moves too quickly will miss his way” (Proverbs 15:18).
We do not associate with the so-called “patience” of the Stoics (with their artificial disinterest to all things); nor the millions who are indifferent to all things, apathetic, uncaring, dispensed of all obligations; or even the Buddhist who lives detached from reality and does not profess a supernatural motive.
Wait for the Lord
The patience that is required from Christians is one of the gifts of the Spirit, a supernatural gift— in fact, a holy patience. It requires waiting for the Lord with total trust and deep Christian faith, and thus avoiding rash judgments, erroneous decisions, hasty movement leading to ruin and disaster, bitter anger, bad temper, and quarrelling.
“Better patience than pride! Do not be quickly provoked in the spirit, for anger resides in the hearts of fools” (Ecclesiastes 7:9).
This holy patience is not only the ability to wait but also the ability to keep a good attitude while waiting. And there are very many biblical texts to support this manner of waiting for the Lord, with unshakeable faith and quiet prayerful serenity.
“Wait on the Lord: be of good courage, and he shall strengthen your heart: wait, I say, on the Lord” (Psalm 27:14).
One should not rush a treasured hope which harbours some eternal value. We are asked not to rush God’s timing, and just because it’s not happening right now does not mean it never will.
The prophet Habakkuk says this so well: “For the vision is for its appointed time, it hastens towards its end and it will not lie; although it may take some time, wait for it, for come it certainly will before too long” (2:3). And Psalm 33:9 tells that “his own designs will stand forever; the plans of his heart from age to age”.
We know that Jacob served Laban for seven years to win Rachel as his bride; yet it seemed like only a few days because of his love for her (Genesis 29:20). A good lesson indeed: Do not count the days, rather let every day count.
We have a legitimate and deep yearning for good things to happen in our lives; however we still have the devil to contend with, and he has other ideas. Satan is able to answer your prayers in his way—but it will be a perversion of what you asked for.
We follow the devil’s guidance—the easy way—and rush into poor decisions, often blaming God for “taking too long”. How easily we forget that God is God.
“Be still and know that I AM God” (Psalm 46).
God never takes too long, for he is the Lord of time. We are foolish to pretend that we are wiser than he is.
Often people are “angry with God”, but they are actually angry with themselves for not listening and not waiting! Wrong and hasty decisions hurt and lead to anger, frustration, and quarrels. St Paul knew this when he asserted that “when self-indulgence is at work, you will find envy, jealousy, bad temper and quarrels” (Galatians 5:15).
So it’s better to turn to his counsel: “Since the Spirit is our life, let us be directed by the Spirit, in love, patience and self-control” (Galatians 5:22).
Christ calmly stills the storm while Satan will rush us into chaos and disillusionment. Holy patience is the necessary supernatural virtue in the face of an invisible enemy like the coronavirus. For when all human efforts fail to meet the challenge overnight, then it is this patience, this total surrender to his power, that provides the only meaningful answer.
Let God take over
Let it go, let God take over. That’s a beautiful expression but it is also packed with many irrefutable conditions: “Seek first the kingdom of God and his justice, and all you need will be given you” (Matthew 5). “Unless the
Lord builds the house, we labour in vain” (Psalm 127).
We are all fully aware that our sinful human nature makes that surrender extremely difficult. How often don’t we grow impatient having to wait for somebody, or when we suffer some illness for a long time, or even when we endure tedious company and conversation, to the point of tears?
Yet the masters of the spiritual life tell us that all this is rooted in our self-professed sovereignty of self, an egocentric attitude, a type of self-importance.
That inordinate stress attached to certain pursuits is not allowing for the laws of nature and the dominating order of time. Basically, we live in denial of our creaturehood, our finite status, our vulnerability, our utter dependence on a Being far greater than ourselves.
Seemingly, there’s a false belief in our supremacy over the universe. The Christian teaching on patience respects the hierarchy of values and the art of waiting.
Christians are meant to restrain themselves when their goals are not speedily achieved or when their friends disappoint in their promises. In such situations, the emotional response should not be anger, bitterness or rude impatience, but the call and opportunity for charity and holy patience.
“The Lord takes delight in those who fear him and wait for his mercy” (Psalm 147:11).
God handles the timing
Patience is an integral component in a life centred in Christ. We naturally make mistakes, and we will stumble a number of times, yet we pursue high ideals with Christian zeal and holy patience, ever acknowledging that God is truly in charge.
Of course, he will never answer our prayer which acts against our salvation; in fact, the Lord will deny you one thing in order to present you with something far more beautiful and useful.
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin advised: “Trust the slow workings of God…give the Lord the benefit of your believing that his hand is leading you.”
While we Christians pursue Truth, we trust God to handle the when and the how. All things of supernatural value, such as holy patience, deserve time and application. Ask saints like Peter, Paul, Francis, Augustine and all the Apostles!
Take another look at the loving, patient father and his prodigal son in the parable recounted in Luke 15. We must recognise the sovereignty of God and the law of nature, and acknowledge that we are only a small part of this incredible creation. You just never know why God is protecting you or what or whom he is saving you from!
“I waited patiently for the Lord to decide…and he heard my cry” (Psalm 40:1).
As we face daily the extreme sacrifices made to meet the restrictions demanded by the pandemic and their long-term consequences, let us accept holy patience, total trust in God, prayer and repentance as our very best response while our doctors and scientists work together for a medical solution.
We are well served to follow Paul’s advice to the Romans: “We must be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer (12:12) and must ever hope—since we are not yet saved, it is something we must wait for with patience” (8:25).
Fr Ralph de Hahn is a priest of the archdiocese of Cape Town. He will continue to write occasionally in the new Southern Cross magazine.
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