As a young man, in the late ’70’s I worked construction on a framing crew, and as is often the case, there were several rather unique characters among them. The lead foremen had an odd sense of humor and nick-named everyone and everything. While working with the crew was generally a good time, the man we worked for was a raging alcoholic, whom the foreman nicknamed “the Strapper”.
The Strapper was a master of verbal abuse and humiliation. He was no carpenter himself, but he always had plenty of work lined up and paid every week. The two foremen who were the actual builders were willing to put up with the abuse because the pay was good and the work was steady.
One morning The Strapper was in rare form, really laying it on during our coffee break. As usual, when the coffee break was over he left to take care of business. “Business” usually meant heading to the nearest open bar. An electrician from another company was working on site and as soon as The Strapper was gone, came over to us and said, “How does God let that man wake up in the morning?”
The lead foreman replied, “Every day God lets him wake up is another day God gives him to repent and change his ways.”
I’ll never forget that. In that single sentence, I learned much about of the character of God.
Why does God let wicked folk wake up in the morning?
Lovingkindness and longsuffering.
“The Lord … is longsuffering to you-ward, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9 ASV).
Webster’s Electronic Dictionary says that the definition of “longsuffering” is “patiently enduring lasting offense or hardship.”
The word “longsuffering” is made up of two Greek words meaning “long” and “temper”; literally, “long-tempered.” Longsuffering is self-restraint, especially, when stirred to anger. A longsuffering person has a “long fuse,” and patiently endures. Longsuffering is often associated with mercy.
Keil and Delitzsche offer this on hesed:
“… hesed is not human love generally, but love to … those who need help or compassionate love. Truth and love are mutually conditions, the one of the other. ‘Truth cannot be sustained without mercy; and mercy without truth makes men negligent; so that the one ought to be mingled with the other’ (Jerome). They both have their roots in the knowledge of God, … Such knowledge not only produces fear of God, but also love and truthfulness towards brethren (cf. Eph 4:32; Col 3:12.). Where this is wanting, injustice gains the upper hand.” (emp mine – spw)
Meditate on that last line. Where lovingkindness is wanting, injustice gains the upper hand.
God’s lovingkindness is characteristic of God’s moral and ethical approach to mankind. One means of dealing with injustice is to demonstrate lovingkindness toward the offender.
Lincoln is credited with saying, “The best way to destroy an enemy is to make him a friend.”
Our moral response to sin and the failures of others, even when those folk who are failing us, hurting us, is to copy God’s character and respond in lovingkindness and longsuffering.
Jesus puts it this way.
“But love your enemies, and do them good, … and ye shall be sons of the Most High: for he is kind toward the unthankful and evil. Be ye merciful, even as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:35–36).
Though God’s justice is but a heartbeat away, God is kind toward the wicked, and so, too, must we.