Tolerance and Love
I’m sitting in a coffee shop right now listening to a man talk about why he just can’t believe in “conservative Christianity” anymore. (Look, maybe I’m eavesdropping, but my ears are plugged with a cold and I still can’t ignore it!) In particular he’s hit on not thinking it possible that people could go to “heaven and hell” (I use the quotes because he did) or that we should ever seek to see someone’s life change through faith. The views of his former belief system are too narrow and seemingly intolerant. “After all, you know what the Beatitudes say–take care of the poor and stuff–it’s just love.”
There are a few things within this sentiment I want to address because I feel like I’m hearing them so frequently lately. I won’t speak to this man’s statements directly because he admittedly wasn’t stating things in as robust a way as some others do, but I share what he said because the thrust of the viewpoint is the same, even if it is more fleshed out by some other writers and thinkers.
Tolerance now means completely accepting viewpoints that culture, and especially the media and TV/movie industry deem correct. Many of these viewpoints are against traditional moral stances. So those who hold to the “outdated” views are intolerant. Yet this has almost nothing to do with tolerance. In fact, very often those who rail against those “intolerant people” are being intolerant in the process. Here’s what it comes down to…
You do not tolerate someone or something you agree with.
The dictionary defines tolerance as “a fair, objective, and permissive attitude toward those whose opinions, practices, race, religion, nationality, etc., differ from [emphasis mine] one’s own.” So the only people and opinions we can logically tolerate are those we disagree with. If we change our opinions and beliefs we would now be tolerant by continuing to respect and treat with dignity those we used to agree with. I am for tolerance (really I’m more for love than tolerance, but we’ll get to that in a minute), but this is teetering on the edge of being a useless word in our culture.
Here is the sentiment I have heard so often recently. “God wouldn’t ___________ because he’s all about love.” God wouldn’t judge anyone, allow consequences, ask people to change, want anyone to feel bad, and on and on. We have such a shallow and individualistic view of love.
When I discipline my son for pushing my daughter, do I hate him? / When I hit my finger instead of a nail and experience immediate pain, does God not love me? / If a man continually cheats on his wife is she wrong (and unloving) when she leaves him?
With real love, sometimes discipline is required. To fail to discipline is unloving. / Our world is set up in such a way that actions have consequences. At times we will experience pain (or happiness) not because God doesn’t love us, but because that’s the way the world works. / Destructive behavior carried out consistently over time has significant, and often lasting (eternal?) consequences. These things do not negate love, they keep it from being a Hallmark card sentiment.
When we really love someone we long to see them become the best version of themselves they can be. When we love someone we weep when their choices destroy their lives. Yet the way love is talked about now it so often is equated to our culture’s vision of tolerance. Love is letting everyone do whatever they want, as long as it makes them happy, and never passing judgement on them–unless they do something intolerant.
On What We Believe
Do you (and I) take Jesus as our King (Lord, Ruler, Guide) and your (my) Savior?
If the answer to this question is no, then this next part doesn’t apply. However, if the answer is yes, we are willingly placing ourselves in a position of submission to him (that’s what you do with a king, only this King doesn’t force you), and this has implications. If we take Jesus as our King and our Savior, then we can no longer say “God would never __________ because it is too intolerant/unloving/distasteful to me.” If he is our King, then we must say, I will seek with all I am to know the ways of Jesus and then follow in those ways. Now, from the things we are told about Jesus we certainly can say he is loving, kind, and sacrificial. However, we must always allow him to define these things, we cannot define them and then put our definitions on him.
I see this especially in the widespread view of those who place themselves inside Christianity that there can be no heaven and hell–no eternal consequence. I like that sentiment. It seems loving to me on the surface and therefore it must be reality. However, this places my belief first, and then I place that belief on God, rather than seeking to know the way and teachings of Jesus and then submitting to those. Jesus talks too much about judgment and hell for me to imagine he was just being sarcastic. (An aside, there certainly are many things to be factored into exactly what Jesus meant when he talked about this issue. My own view on hell is not completely traditional. What I am saying is that if Jesus is our King we can’t just ignore him and pretend he didn’t say things because they don’t seem loving to us. Maybe we are the ones with an insufficient and limited view of love?)
This issue aside, the point here is, the fundamental issue at stake in Christianity is not what you think about various doctrines but whether you submit to Jesus as your King and trust in him as your Savior. That becomes the starting point for a life of faith and practice, not vice versa.