Tuesday 26 November 2013

Patience is a virtue - but why?


Pacience is a poynt, thagh hit displese ofte.

Opening phrase of Pacience, a Middle English poem by "The Gawain Poet". Poynt means virtue. 


That patience is a virtue, and why patience is necessary, is evidence of the fundamental nature of reality.

So often, we are taught by the best authorities, patience is the proper Christian response. Not always appropriate - but certainly patience is usually both necessary and good.


But why? Why is patience needed? Why cannot things be as they will be, as they should be: but NOW?

The answer is: Because Time is linear, sequential: Because the world is causal, and causes and effects take time to eventuate: Because things take time to happen - and in the mean-time we must wait.


It takes time to get from situation A to situation B - and in between the two situations of A and B may be the free will, the agency of sentient beings, which may help or may hinder; thus the pathway from A to B may not be predetermined, even when the fact of eventually moving from A to B is certain. Reality may need to take a variety of routes, to find a way around, to fulfil the will of God - and this takes time.

To be impatient is to deny this fundamental reality; to be impatient is to deny the reality of reality - that is nihilism.


Why don't things happen instantly? If they could, then patience would not be necessary and would not be a virtue. 

If the ultimate reality of the universe was that there was no Time, that ultimately reality was outside of Time - and if God was omnipotent, and if everything that happened anywhere was God's direct doing - then there would be no need for Patience because things could be made SO in an instant.

But because the universe is within Time, things cannot be made SO in an instant; but events must work through in sequence - which takes time.


Even the salvation of Man took time to work-through - hundreds or thousands of years from Adam to Christ, filled with prophets and History; some thirty years of the life of Christ - the hours in the Garden of Gethsemane and the hours on the cross; the dozens of hours from Good Friday to Easter Day. And so on.

If the coming of Christ and his work took place in historical Time, linearly and sequentially - we can only infer that this was necessary; it was necessary because that is how reality really is.


Things almost-never are done in an instant - to wish that this were so may be a snare; things almost-always need to be worked-through.

And in the mean-time: we must be patient.



The Crow said...

Linear time is a quality of physical existence. It does not apply to the soul, or to pure consciousness.
Entropy is a quality of linear time.
Physical existence observes.
Non-physical existence does not.
The realm of God is a single moment: past, present, future, all at once.
This is eternity.
Known, to those who do not yet know, as Heaven.

MC said...

One of your best.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Crow - If you believe that, then there is no reason for you to be patient. Your (psychological and philosophical) difficulty then is in explaining why, nonetheless, you seem to be having to wait for things - why things don't just become what they must be. In fact why aren't they already what they must be. In fact what's the point of all this mucking about, growing, decaying, happiness and suffering and death? If things really are just a single moment - why the illusion that they aren't? - what's the point of illusion?

Bruce Charlton said...

@MC - Thanks!

The Crow said...

Bruce: patience, as life, is its own reward. Given this gift, does one waste it trying to establish what exactly it is, or does one take it at face value, and simply get on with living it?
There doesn't really have to be a 'point' to it. It is. It must have value.
People run into trouble trying to determine exactly what sort of value that is.
Granted,living to the full is a big, big trick, but only until discovering that the trick is the realization that there isn't one.

Bruce Charlton said...


"People run into trouble trying to determine exactly what sort of value that is."

But why do people do that. Why don't they just accept? Where does that error (of trying to determiine exact value) originate from?

"Granted,living to the full is a big, big trick, but only until discovering that the trick is the realization that there isn't one."

But why is any trick necessary? Why aren't we made such that we see that "life is its own reward" from the beginning?

The Crow said...

Bruce: I observe that we are made that way, to see the adventure as the adventure it is, from the beginning. But if you think back, and recollect, you may agree that our own parents, our introductions to religion, our educations, all conspire to convince us that there is more to it than simple acceptance.
We come to not trust the obvious inference of intuition and experience, and depend, instead, upon the persuasion of others to interpret life for us.
Both you and I have spent many years trying to recover from that little sidetrack.

What was that passage about the scales falling from the eyes? That's an apt description.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Crow - "our own parents, our introductions to religion, our educations, all conspire to convince us that there is more to it than simple acceptance."

Yes indeed - but where does that come from? Why do they thus conspire - where or from whom comes the idea that there is 'more to it'?

And why are we vulnerable to this silly misconception?

Why don't we just ignore them - why are we 'built' such that we are so vulnerable to this misunderstanding.

If the universe is 'perfect' why aren't we?

Adam G. said...

Very good.

Patience is a recognition of love and time. Love means that other people and beings matter--so you don't just eliminate them if they don't fit your plans, and time means that they can change, and you can change.

Patience and hope are connected, which is how patience differs from resignation and despair.

The Crow said...

As you are so fond of reminding us: Free Will.
Sounds noble, but most often ends up being manifested as crack-addict slavery to easy habit.
Also, I am sure, paradox, and the inability of most humans to become familiar with its workings.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Adam G - Thanks. The insight came after reading the early chapters of 3 Nephi, and also reflecting on my own spiritual situation - in which I am sure that patience is needed (i.e. being asked for), rather than immediate assertive action.

In general, I recognized a year ago that the need for patience is a recurrent theme in the Old Testament http://charltonteaching.blogspot.co.uk/2012/12/living-patiently-prepared-for-old.html - and also in the BoM.

But there is not much about patience in the New Testament - partly because he timescale of the 'action' is so compressed - thus evangelicals (who are NT-orientated) often display impatience (which is bad) as well as energy and urgency (which is good).

Titus Didius Tacitus said...

Impatience is valuable. It is the enemy of "cooling out the mark".

Bruce Charlton said...

@TDT - No, that is the wrong conceptualization. What you should be saying is that each virtue must be balanced with the others, and that any one pursued to excess and in isolation is a vice. So it is not right *always* to be patient.

Titus Didius Tacitus said...

"Each virtue must be balanced with the others..." Exactly.

Were impatience not valuable, it could never balance patience.

And it needs to. The costs of impatience are obvious and immediate, but the costs of patience can be quietly corrosive and cumulative.

Bruce Charlton said...

@TDT - I am saying something different. I am saying that impatience is never a *virtue* (although impatience may, of course, sometimes lead to desirable consequences); but it is sometimes virtuous that patience is over-ridden by something more important in a particular situation - like love.