The Essence of Longsuffering

Longsuffering. Suffering long. Is this something all of us are called to do on a daily basis? In today’s fast-paced, “gotta-have-it-now” culture, we might be tempted to think we’re “suffering long” when we have to wait twenty minutes in the DMV line, or when we’re forced to endure ten minutes of easy listening music while we hold for the “next available representative” of the insurance company. Hey, we’re suffering, and we’re suffering long, right?

Although the term longsuffering might seem to be equivalent in meaning to the word patience, it actually encompasses a bit more. In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word translated longsuffering is connected with an interesting ancient idiom. “Literally, when the Bible says God is ‘longsuffering,’ it reads ‘God is long of nose.’ When He is angry, His nose becomes red and burns…When He is compassionate His nose becomes long, so long in fact that it would take forever to burn completely.”¹ The modern equivalent of this expression is long-fused. 

In the New Testament, the word makrothumia bears much of the same connotation. It “speaks of the steadfastness of the soul under provocation. It includes the idea of forbearance and patient endurance of wrong under ill-treatment, without anger or thought of revenge.”² A good synonym would be forbearance.

“Steadfastness of the soul under provocation…patient endurance of wrong.”³ The martyr in me loves the romantic sound of these words, and sometimes even relishes the opportunity to live up to them. (Cue the violins.) When the children are conspired against me, trying my patience at every turn, and I recall that Mrs. So-and-so is off having fun in a tropical paradise, I sigh with morbid satisfaction and “take up my cross” with stoic heroism. Am I demonstrating true longsuffering in such a circumstance? The answer usually isn’t long in coming. One childish shenanigan too many, and…kaboom! At that point, I realize that my “longsuffering” is really only fleshly self-sufficiency dressed to appear respectable to myself and others. Such “longsuffering” doesn’t impress God, nor does it come from Him. It is shallow and fickle, not consistent, deep, and abiding like God’s longsuffering. I am learning that the only way to develop true longsuffering – sincere compassion and forbearance – is to sit at the feet of the One who is infinitely patient with those who have wronged Him far more grievously than anyone has ever offended me.

“He was oppressed, and He was afflicted, Yet He opened not His mouth; He was led as a lam to the slaughter…He opened not His mouth.” Isaiah 53:7

 

¹R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer, Bruce K. Waltke, eds., Wordbook of the Old Testament (Chicago: Moody Press, 1999).

²Kenneth S. Wuest, Word Studies in the Greek New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997), 162.

³Ibid.


 

Written by Julie Herbster. This article was published in the Spring 2008 edition of The Beautiful Spirit magazine.
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