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The Tolerance Myth


Patience, faithfulness, and mercy are virtues. But is tolerance?

Tolerance is a measure of how much weight a substance can bear before it breaks. It is more a quality of rocks and metals than of people.

The only time the word appears in the Bible is when Jesus says God will show less tolerance for those who reject his teachings than he showed for Sodom and Gomorrah. (Matthew 10:14-15; 11:20-24) Fire and brimstone raining down from the sky doesn't sound much like the popular idea of tolerance.

Unlike patience, faithfulness, and mercy, tolerance in the modern sense doesn't demand much of us. We usually tolerate people hurting someone or something besides ourselves. Tolerating sin is counterfeit love... cheap grace at God's expense.

The tolerance doctrine is an excuse not to change. ("I won't criticise you if you don't criticise me.") And it gives us the feeling that we are more loving than God.

It is the reasoning behind every argument that begins, "Why does a God of love...?" If we cannot tolerate the way God runs his world, we must either change our definition of love, or stop teaching that he is a God of love.

He doesn't have to conform to our idea of "loving", you know!

The first two-thirds of the Bible and the first two-thirds of the history recorded in it teach us that, before anything else, God is God... He is the boss, and he gives the orders. We are specks of dust by comparison.

Somewhere along the line we seem to have forgotten that.

One of the great sins of Sodom and Gomorrah was tolerance. Abraham was convinced that there were at least 50 righteous people in the city. But what passed for righteousness was merely indifference to the sin around them.

And there's a lot of that today. Both the political left and the political right preach tolerance. The left wants us to tolerate drugs and sexual immorality; and the right wants us to tolerate greed and economic injustice.

We are intolerant of both.

So we are accused by both sides of being "unloving".

But a better test of love is the ability to live together with people in close fellowship for an extended period of time, suffering the loss of all things for one another. How many are tolerant enough to even attempt such a task?

The truth is that most people cannot even live in peace with their own families, or maintain a marriage relationship which will last a lifetime. Perhaps this is where the world needs more tolerance.

But we would rather say that this is where more patience, faithfulness, and mercy need to be demonstrated.

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