Part One explained that God's general pattern is to allow people time to repent rather than instantly executing the death penalty. He is merciful, and as Peter says, "longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance" (II Peter 3:9). For example, the pre-Flood world received 120 years of warning, but ultimately, God saved only eight people from cataclysm. In Acts 17:30, Paul declares that all men everywhere have a responsibility to repent, a blunt and unpopular message from which today's Churchianity shies away.
Over the decades, there has been a concerted effort in the Western world to remove God from all vestiges of public life. Ominously, the modern nations of Israel are demanding that God not be their God. As the years wear on without seeing His hand in events, fewer people fear God. Natural disasters were once called "acts of God," but the idea that God might judge in this way is increasingly foreign in the national discourse. As the famine of hearing the Word of God deepens (Amos 8:11), people's ability to connect the dots between spiritual cause and physical effect is drying up altogether.
God has given the nations of Israel time to repent, but the carnal mind translates more time into license to carry on. For this reason, God warns His people about settling on their lees (Zephaniah 1:12, KJV), about complacency, about feeling secure in the world, because even though He gives time to repent, His generosity has a drugging effect on our sense of urgency and zeal. After all, we can always become serious about our calling and make those long-put-off changes when the end is a little closer, right?
Even closer to home, consider what has happened in the church in the last half-century. Herbert Armstrong said that he first saw what he identified as Laodiceanism enter the church in 1969. However, a significant span of time elapsed between that infiltration and God's scattering of the church because of false doctrine. While He allows His people time to repent, He also sets limits, intervening to keep hearts from becoming fully set in the wrong way. Yet, even within the church, it is still uncommon to think of the scattering as an act of God's judgment, brought about by men He knew would bring in destructive heresies. If we have failed to see God's hand in the reorganization of His church, could He be giving us time to repent in yet other areas—ones we have perhaps pushed out of our minds?
Or do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance? But in accordance with your hardness and your impenitent heart you are treasuring up for yourself wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, who "will render to each one according to his deeds": eternal life to those who by patient continuance in doing good seek for glory, honor, and immortality; but to those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness—indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish, on every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Greek; but glory, honor, and peace to everyone who works what is good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For there is no partiality with God.
We can see God's forbearance and longsuffering in His pattern of giving time to repent. He desires children in His image. He wants us to live as He does because it is the very best way to live. He wants us to be of the same heart and perspective so that He can share eternity with us. If He meted out instantaneous death for every infraction, we would never have the chance to complete His process of spiritual maturity. Our Father is not sitting with a stopwatch, waiting until He can smash His magnificent and beloved creation. He is working with us in the way that will accomplish His purpose, and it requires time for His way to become our way.
It is the word "goodness" in verse 4 that we need to consider. In Greek, it is chrēstotēs, which some versions translate as "kindness" or "benevolence." Though chrēstotēs describes a less active facet of God's goodness, it in no way indicates indulgence or enabling. One definition that poignantly illustrates what Paul means is that chrēstotēs is "what is suitable or fitting to a need." If we are in need of food, clothing, and so forth, God's goodness—His benevolence—will supply what is suitable for our need.
However, it is not simply God's generosity that leads us to repentance, but instead, He leads us to repentance through supplying what is suitable or fitting for our needs—and we must keep in mind that He is most concerned about our spiritual needs. As an example, because we need a sacrifice for our sins, He provided a perfect one. We also need faith to initiate the salvation process, so He provided the faith that is suitable. This supplying of our need is all part of His goodness, His kindness, His benevolence.
But when He sees that we need a different perspective, an upgrade in character, or a better appreciation of the seriousness of sin, He shows the same kindness in providing a trying circumstance to help produce the change He desires. It would not be kind or good for Him to allow us to continue on a destructive path, so in His goodness, He does what He deems necessary to lead us to repentance, if we submit.
At times, He sends calamities to get our attention, but usually, He gives gentler taps on the shoulder or speaks in that "still, small voice"—that voice of a gentle breeze. He gives small nudges to encourage us to consider our ways and make adjustments to our path. In His goodness, He leads us to repentance so we can ultimately have a better, more spiritually abundant life. Next time, we will see more of what God does during the time He gives to repent.
- David C. Grabbe