Although I know should not do this for the sake of my blood pressure and out of respect for the analytical skills I am supposed to be honing in graduate school, and not destroying, I often will scan user comments on news articles after I read them, especially articles that deal with controversial subjects. An article discussing the issue of marriage will invariably have a few users who chime in with the “ultimate answer” to Christians who support traditional marriage. These comments usually say something like, “God is love, and that means love in whatever way it manifests itself. He accepts everyone equally, and Christians who hate homosexuals do not reflect who God really is.”
Yesterday at church I heard a sermon that dealt with the rich young ruler, and how Jesus immediately pinpointed that what was lacking in that man’s life was the inability to understand the depth of his sin and his need for a Savior. It was far easier for him to believe in his wealth and position than to admit those things could not save him and turn to the One who could. This morning as I went to do my devotions, I realized how deeply the Gospel as Jesus presented it to the young ruler rejects tolerance.
“Tolerance” is a huge buzz word right now and has been for awhile. It hit me today that the rise to prevalence that it has enjoyed in America may be one of Satan’s more brilliant moves. The idea of it sounds so…American. You accept everyone as they are, and everyone lives how they want to. No one steps on anyone’s toes. This is how true freedom manifests itself in society.
I think this concept sounds innocent enough and carries a small grain of truth that makes it sound acceptable that it has proven to be the biggest thorn in the church’s side. This wolf in sheep’s clothing has blindsided us. The saddest part about it is the concept of love has been weakened to the point that it is now equated with tolerance.
Tolerance, however, only extends as far as the Tolerant Line. If you have opinions that do not line up with that, then you lose your right to freedom of speech to express such offensive feelings. If you do open your mouth and say something that does not fall on correct side of the Line, then you are expected to at the very least apologize, and hopefully take sensitivity classes or write a check that will prove that you actually are tolerant of those you offended when you held a view contrary to their way of life. Even with those measures, you can expect to be branded for life as someone who is stupid or ignorant or, even worse, intolerant.
What started off as such an innocent sounding word has done more to hurt the church in the past decade than anything else. Tolerance has become America’s god, and its priests are political activists who remain on the prowl to subdue any sign of resistance. The concept of what love truly is has been lost. Explaining God’s love, then, becomes that much harder. The phrase “God is love” has become one of the most misunderstood truths in America today.
God is not tolerant, in any way, shape, or form. A quick glance through the history of Israel in the Old Testament will prove that, as will reading any of Jesus’s words to the Pharisees or New Testament stories like Ananias and Sapphira. God’s holiness leaves no room for tolerance. These examples, however, also serve to illustrate just how beautiful God’s mercy is. No one is righteous—anyone who has ever told a single lie and taken anything at all that did not belong to them (a paperclip from the office, for example) is a lying thief. The depravity we all live in is so deep, and God does not tolerate it at all. His mercy, however, is open to everyone. Without judgment He will extend the mercy of Christ’s sacrifice to anyone who recognizes the depth of his or her sin and turns to Him for life. The law of God still applies, and tolerance offends God’s holiness. A metaphor I heard in church yesterday was that the law is like a needle that must pierce the human heart (“for without the law I never knew what sin was”) to create a hole that the thread of God’s mercy can then enter to bind the heart to Him. Tolerance only stands in the way of God’s salvation, because if the depth of sin is accepted, then the need for Christ is hidden. In ignoring, or, at worst, embracing, tolerance, the Church has allowed an idea that blocks the Gospel to become so prevalent in society that we now have to overcome it before we can share the message that brings Life, and that abundantly.
As long as Tolerance is the driving force behind societal policy, the Church can never be. The two should not, and cannot, exist side-by-side. For God’s love to truly be understood and communicated, we must recognize that sin exists and is wrong, admit that we Christians, too, are sinners and that we hold ourselves accountable to the same line of judgment as we hold everyone else, and then point to the Truth that comes not from ourselves, but from a higher authority. Only then will the depth of God’s grace truly be revealed.