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The devil, if we are paying attention, presents us with something of a paradox. On the one hand, when he is introduced to us we are told, “Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made” (Gen. 3:1). On the other hand, he is likewise the biggest fool to ever walk the planet. If insanity is rightly defined as the propensity to try the same thing over and over again, all the while expecting different results, then our nemesis is certifiable. He has been on a losing streak since day one, and it will go on forever. That he fights is foolish. How he fights is crafty.

Satan, despite the interesting parallels in how we spell their names, is not some sort of bad Santa, carrying around a sack full of illicit goodies by which he seeks to tempt us away from our calling. It is decidedly less than crafty, then, to take such a straightforward approach. We would, of course, be on our guard were he so crass. Instead, the devil delights to work in the background, and to work on the background. That is, he likes to lay low while laying the foundations for our thinking.

Consider for a moment (but only for a moment, for I know how busy you must be) the biblical virtue of patience, that fruit of the Holy Spirit that seems always to be just outside our reach. What would you do if you, like the devil, wanted to squash this fruit of the Spirit, to turn it into a bruised mess fit only for the dumpster? Surely you would see that it would do you precious little good to try to create a crusade in favor of impatience. You would have to look long and hard to find a political action committee or a secular advocacy group that seeks to promote the virtue of impatience. You’d be more likely to find a brigade of zealots in favor of tooth decay. The devil is smarter than that. He does not preach the virtues of impatience. He just puts us in a world where it doesn’t make sense.

Sociologists often speak of what they like to call “plausibility structures.” These are not particular ideas that are self-consciously being promoted by advocates. Instead they are systems, so to speak, that encourage a particular way of looking at the world. The pro-abortion lobby has glommed onto this idea in how it sells its morbid view of the world. We are pro-life, but they do not present themselves as pro-death. Rather, they describe themselves as “pro-choice.” During the first decade of the pro-life movement we spent our time trying to make the case that unborn children were just that, unborn children. Surely once they see what they are doing, this would all stop. Except we won that debate, and blood still runs in our streets. It does so because “choice” resonates with Americans. And it resonates with Americans not because of careful, thoughtful reasoning among Americans, but because of toothpaste. “Choice” makes sense to us because we live in a world of choice, where we choose not only among forty different brands of toothpaste, but among ten different sizes. This creates a “plausibility” structure, a world in which choice just makes sense to us.

What has this to do with patience? Be patient — we’re getting there. “Choice” is not the only unspoken assumption that so often directs our conclusions. We live in a world not only where you can choose among so many toothpastes, but a world in which you can get that toothpaste whenever you want. You can get instant cash, and use it to buy instant coffee, all within the confines of your car. And lest that car should trouble you, you can get your oil changed, and be on your way in ten minutes or less. If that doesn’t help, you can get instant approval on a loan for a new car.

Instant service in many ways is a great blessing. But it can encourage us to be impatient, even about the good things. If I can be an instant winner with the lottery, why can’t I be an instant winner in my race toward sanctification? Why is God taking so long in teaching me patience? Perhaps because He delights to do so. Perhaps because you not only can’t hurry love, but you can’t hurry joy, peace, and patience, or any of the fruits of the Spirit. Virtues are things we are called to cultivate, not order online. They don’t come with the option of overnight shipping for a mere twenty dollars more.

If we would cultivate these virtues, however, we must eradicate the weeds that choke it out. It isn’t enough to try to bootstrap our way to more patience. We have to dig deep into these plausibility structures, and see where they are leading us. In short, we need to live in light of the culture to which we have been called, not in the dark of the one from which we have come. We must not have our minds conformed to this world. Instead, they must be transformed by the renewing of our minds.

Such wisdom doesn’t come from an instant cash machine. You won’t cook it up in a microwave. There is but one source, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him” (James 1:5). If we ask Him for wisdom, He will give it to us. If we receive wisdom, He will give us patience. But it may take a while. Such is the wisdom of God, and such is His patience with us.

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From the September 2004 Issue
Sep 2004 Issue