Phillip Lynch is an expat New Zealand writer living in Atlantic Canada. He has also authored several books and articles under the pen name Scott MacGregor.
I used to have my own definitions of longsuffering and patience. Longsuffering was putting up with something, and patience was putting up with nothing. The one was expressed in "I wish I didn't have," and the other in "I wish I did." There's more to both than that, of course, especially longsuffering.
When I looked into the Greek word µακροθυµέω (phonetically, makrothumia), the word translated in some Bible versions as “longsuffering,” I saw that there was another facet. Makro means “long” (no revelation there), and thumia means temper, which was eye-opening. So a more precise translation of makrothumia may be long-tempered, the opposite of short-tempered.
The prisoner dictated a letter to some of his dearest friends hundreds of miles away in another country. He told them that he was in chains—most likely chained to his jailer, as that was the custom of the time. Ironically, he had previously been in jail in the city in which his friends lived.1 On that occasion he had been beaten and imprisoned—illegally, it turned out—in the city’s most secure cell. He was considered an atheist2 and a rabble-rouser, and was well-known to authorities throughout the empire who were glad to get him off the streets whenever they could.
It hadn't always been that way. There had been a time when he was dedicated to enforcing the law. He had even been an officially sanctioned vigilante who went about brutally clearing his area of miscreants, men, women, and children alike.3 That had been a task he relished. But that had been long ago. Now he was on the other side of the fence, and his former colleagues were complicit in his censure and imprisonment.
There is an adage, "Good is the enemy of best" The point is that settling for something that is merely good may mean that something better is never attained. It seems to be a cultural imperative these days that we never settle for less than what we believe will prove to be the absolute best for us. But I'm coming to a different conclusion.
In my personal quest for the best possible outcome in each and every situation, I’m seeing that I have sometimes passed up some good possibilities; because I was worried that just around that next corner could be what I really, really, really wanted, I failed to take advantage of the opportunity at hand. In such cases, it seems to me that “best” is really the enemy of “good.” Going for the proverbial pot of gold at the end of the rainbow caused me to miss the beauty of the rainbow. I would probably be happier if I embraced the journey, rather than always being fixated on reaching my next goal.
In modern English, the word “love” conveys a range of emotions, but the classical Greeks were more precise. They had four words that all find themselves translated “love” in English: storgē, philíos, éros,and agápe.
Storgē is still used in modern Greek, and it roughly fits our English word “affection,” especially the type of affection within families. It can also be used in a “put up with” type of way—and as most of us know, that is in fact the type of love many of us had for our siblings when growing up.
When I first began reading the Bible, a word that captured my attention was “lovingkindness.” I felt very warm inside when I read passages like “I will betroth you to Me in righteousness and justice, in lovingkindness and mercy,”1 or “I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore with lovingkindness I have drawn you,”2 or “[God] redeems your life from destruction [and] crowns you with lovingkindness and tender mercies,”3 or “The Lord will command His lovingkindness in the daytime, and in the night His song shall be with me.”4
In some modern English translations, expressions such as “steadfast love,” “mercy,” and just plain “love” are used in place of “lovingkindness,” but I miss that word. It seems to encapsulate in a single word what God means most to me. It is the translation of the Hebrew word chased, and it was coined long ago by Miles Coverdale, one of the very first translators of the Bible into English. In the Greek and Latin translations that had preceded Coverdale’s English effort, chased had been translated as eleos and misericordia respectively, the equivalents of the English word “mercy.”
When I turned 60 last year, I did some soul searching. I clearly hadn’t achieved all I could or should have in my life so far. Was I therefore a failure? Give me a minute before I answer that.
I’d gone through some changes recently and was now at a place both geographically and career-wise that was not what I had had in mind. I wasn’t unhappy, but I wasn’t entirely pleased with my circumstances either. I felt like I was becalmed at sea, no wind in my sails, monotonous stretches of ocean in all directions. The horizon was in sight, but that didn’t help. I couldn’t decide which point on the horizon to aim for, and even if I could, I had no means to propel myself towards it. What and where was my purpose in life?
One part of the Nativity story that has held particular fascination for me is the visit of the wise men.
Matthew is the only Gospel that mentions these mysterious men that are sometimes called the magi, and he gives only scant details.
Sometimes I’m amazed at how dense I can be! I’ve been reading the Bible regularly for the past 40 years, but it was only yesterday that something so elementary struck me that I wondered where my head had been the past four decades.
I’ve been bothered recently by what a raw deal God usually gets. In many of the books I’ve read and the television shows and movies I’ve watched, it seems that whenever God comes up, He is portrayed as hard and unyielding, even mean. I was getting tired of this portrayal because it simply doesn’t match up with the God I know. At the same time, I admit that I have myself also occasionally wondered about God’s goodness—not so much whether He was good, but rather if I was the only one somehow missing out on it. But even when battling with my own questions about God’s justness, I knew that these other portrayals were grossly unfair.
I have come to realize that God takes His time. Perhaps that comes from being eternal. He has all the time in the world, so why should He hurry?
God is an investor, not a speculator. He doesn’t “buy” something today with the intention of “selling” it tomorrow. Sure, He wants to get high returns on His investments, but He can wait a very long time if need be. He invests in people, and He doesn’t seem to mind the time it takes for that investment to pay off. Knowing the future also comes in handy, no doubt.
From time to time, this column on Endtime events revisits the subject of the “image of the Beast.” Recently I was looking at a photo of a gold-plated colossus of a recently deceased dictator, and it got me thinking. It seems dictators really like having giant statues of themselves erected, and it looks like the worst tyrant the world will ever know is going to follow in the tradition of his predecessors. That tyrant, of course, would be the Antichrist, whom the apostle John, in the Bible’s final book, Revelation, called “the Beast.” According to John, a character called the “False Prophet,” one of the Beast’s chief accomplices, “deceives those who dwell on the earth by those signs which he was granted to do in the sight of the Beast, telling those who dwell on the earth to make an image to the Beast who was wounded by the sword and lived.”1