The Virtue of Patience
The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness,
Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains. You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand. Do not grumble against one another, brothers, so that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the door.
Gregory the Great spoke of it [patience] as the ‘root and guardian of all virtues.’
Intellectual Patience, in God Without Measure Volume II, by John Webster
Google has taught us a problematic habit: impatience (or cultivated it to a greater extent at least). When I don’t know something, I google it, all too often and unfortunately interrupting my present company. But we should call it more than a problematic habit, it is a vice. And we’re not just impatient with the things we’re curious about, but we have become impatient with ourselves, impatient with others, and impatient with the world. Just think for a second with me about what this intellectual impatience feeds: pride, disrespect, disregard, the inability to be alone. It affects every area of our lives. If Gregory the Great is correct, which I would think he’s pretty close to correct, then when we lack patience, we open ourselves up to all sorts of vice-full living.
So when we are impatient with our thoughts and ideas, what is happening? If we actually decide to go to google with every thought, the most pressing matter is that we begin to ignore the people who are in our presence. Unfortunately, there is no such thing as multitasking with our brains, and to look down at a phone for a minute stultifies any conversation we’ve been having. If it’s true that it takes 7 minutes to actually get a good conversation going, it means we will never be making the time to actually know and love one another. This is a problem for any Christian because we are called to love one another. And when we are so distracted by the lust for knowledge, we neglect loving others. Not only that, but this habit leads us to an extreme drought of wisdom and an excess of pride. There is an extreme drought of wisdom in our world because we (implicitly) think we can just access all knowledge we would ever need on the internet. But we run into the problem that knowing everything doesn’t mean that we are good or wise or know truth even. Instead, the lust for random facts, which we call curiosity, is a cousin to every other kind of lust. This means it must be tamed and placed in it’s proper place. We see the bad effects of this all around us. In seminary it was always sort of awkward when a student asked a question that really was a correction of the professor. But don’t we do this in all these other areas of knowledge that we’ve grabbed? We lack both the charity to use such the knowledge and the wisdom to apply it with care. Instead when we spout online, it mostly displays our own pride and lack of willingness to be patient and accept the limitations of the real relationships we have. Perhaps one of the hardest things to watch is how much the impatient, online life affects human memory. Our friends who spend the most time online have lost the most basic human memory. We have lost our short-term memory because we have outsourced it to Google.
But we also become impatient with ourselves and others. The internet and Google comes in a long line of technologies that overextend our humanity. Where cars overextended us geographically, the internet overextends ourselves intellectually and relationally. We can’t fully process all the things we intake and we can’t fully maintain healthy human relationships online. And I think it leads us to be tempted to be impatient and dissatisfied with ourselves. When we were first married, we didn’t have internet at our house (and no smartphones either). I had internet at work but Ami was uneasy because she used to pride herself on responding to emails really fast, and couldn’t do that anymore. We eventually got internet after a year, but you can understand this uneasiness. We set up these unrealistic expectations for ourselves and others because it feels like we have literally everything at our fingertips. And we are impatient with the world around us. We live in the make-believe world of the internet where we don’t actually have to walk with someone through difficulties, and where we don’t encounter their awkward imperfections. There isn’t such a thing as current discourse. If you’ve watched any presidential debates in the past 20 years, you’ll not have seen a discussion. Instead, you’ll have seen two people giving stump speeches and finding ways of insulting their opponent. We would be impatient to actually hear a 5 hour debate on one topic like Lincoln and Douglas. But if we did, we would actually hear a discussion. This is just one example of our impatience with the world around us.
What is the answer? It’s kind of a crazy world. I think it would be wise to hit the reset button on all this stuff. Then we should start by meditating on the patience of our God. He was at work for thousands of years to bring redemption, and he was patient with humanity even though they were living self-destructive lives. And still, he’s been working for 2,000 years after Christ to build his church. When Israel built the golden calf at the wilderness, at their repentance, he proclaimed himself to be a God who is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. This is the ultimate example of his patient love. And we too are called to be patient—in all things. Patience is a guardian of all the other virtues. It is good as we wait for our redemption.