Longsuffering is a compound word in English. It is also a compound word in the biblical Greek. In the Greek longsuffering is composed of two words, one meaning long, the other word meaning passion, hard breathing, indignation, and or wrath. This second term is derived from a word that means rush to kill, sacrifice, or immolate; it gives a connation of someone who reacts by rushing to lash out when they feel wronged. The first word - long- modifies this word to mean the opposite. Longsuffering can be defined as a trait of someone who when wronged responds by not lashing out at those who wronged them. Or, in other words, a longsuffering person takes a long time before they lash out.
This is not a trait that is typically admired in our society. We tend to admire those who lash out and put others in their place or give others a piece of their mind. These feel justified in doing it. Even those of us who seem calm secretly rehearse in our minds what words we will say and how we will say them in case we feel wronged by anyone. Sadly, many who profess to be Christians also share this trait and also feel justified. We tend to see long suffering as weakness.
But, the Bible says that God is longsuffering (Exodus 34:6, Romans 2:4). He waited at least 80 years before executing judgment on the Amorites (Genesis 15:16). Forty years the Lord tarried with Israel in the wilderness. Thousands of years he waited for Israel to repent and turn to Him. He said to them through the prophet Hosea,
Hosea 11:8 How shall I give thee up, Ephraim? how shall I deliver thee, Israel? how shall I make thee as Admah? how shall I set thee as Zeboim? mine heart is turned within me, my repenting's are kindled together.
This is an amazing insight into both God's own suffering due to human sin and His desire to save us. Even though sinful Israel deserved total destruction, the Lord in His enduring mercy continues to love His people while striving for their repentance. Hosea 11 teaches that God's ways transcend those of sinful humanity. He will not let bitterness govern His decisions. God's love seeks to bring healing, health, and restoration to His people. Many are the examples of God delaying judgment when repentance was found in Israel or Judah. The purpose of divine discipline is to correct, amend, and reconcile, not to destroy and avenge. Many people have difficulty reconciling these two visions of God. Some professed Christians, do not understand the long suffering aspect of God; instead, they see Him as vengeful, angry, and just looking to find fault with them in order to punish them for their sins. Even worse, some believe that He burns the lost in hell for eternity. That, however, is not the picture of God presented here. Others, fault on the other side that God is so good, that He will never punish or discipline. That picture is not presented here, either. We read in the book of Hebrews that God chastens whom He loves,
Heb 12:5 And ye have forgotten the exhortation which speaketh unto you as unto children, My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him:
Heb 12:6 For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth.
Heb 12:7 If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not?
Heb 12:8 But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons.
So, just because God is long suffering it does not mean that He will not discipline or chasten us. When God chastens it is not to punish, but to correct and heal. He gives us time to repent and turn to Him, but He will not delay forever. He wants us to reproduce His character in us. He wants us to love as He loves; and God's love suffers long (1 Corinthians 13: 4). This, by the way, means that He wants us to be longsuffering. And, it is possible for us to be longsuffering, if we abide in Him and He in us. Only as we abide do we bear much fruit (John 15: 4- 8). We know that this fruit is Spiritual and that long suffering is part of that fruit (Galatians 5: 22).