A.W. Tozer said that the most important thing in life is how we view God. Our conception of God radically shapes how we treat people. Is God tolerant? If so, how then should we act towards others?
The modern secular concept of tolerance seems to demand that we must celebrate what others are doing, even if it goes against biblical ethics. But what if biblical tolerance means something else? True tolerance does not have to agree in order to love. As Romans 2:4 says, God himself is tolerant, forbearing, kind and patient, giving us time to change and turn back.
The late Elie Wiesel, famed writer and holocaust survivor, commented that there is divine beauty in learning, just as there is human beauty in tolerance. Most of us as Christians believe in the value of tolerance even if we cannot define what it means. The Concise Oxford Dictionary speaks of tolerance as forbearance which means to completely bear with someone’s failings as you patiently give them time to grow. As Ephesian 4:2 says, we are to be patient, forbearing and bearing with one another in love. As Dr. John Gottman puts it, when you honour and respect each other, you’re usually able to appreciate each other’s point of view, even if you don’t agree with it. You don’t need to be a moral relativist winking at sin, in order to be biblically tolerant.
Genuine tolerance is the love of neighbour, doing unto others as you would have them do unto you. Tolerance is also about choosing to forgive. As Colossians 3:13 puts it, we need to be forbearing one another and forgiving one another, if you have any quarrel against one another. Sometimes our children and teenagers greatly try our patience, particularly when they may be teasing their siblings. The joy of tolerance includes setting healthy boundaries while not giving up on painful people, including our family members.
The Concise Oxford Dictionary also speaks of tolerance as recognition of the right of private judgement in religious matters, including the liberty to uphold one’s religious opinions and forms of worship. Our democratic freedoms, like freedom of thought, speech and assembly, enshrined in our Charter of Rights, are all rooted in the primary freedom, which is freedom of religion. The British Act of Toleration in 1689 was a huge step forward in advancing the democratic rights of people to freedom of religion.
GK Chesterton commented that tolerance sometimes leads to timidity where people become afraid to even mention their religious views. True tolerance doesn’t push religion into a closet but welcomes it joyfully in the public square.
Intolerance is often like bad breath and body odor; it is difficult to always notice one’s own intolerance. Sometimes people who pride themselves on being more tolerant than others end up intolerantly looking down on other people. Dr. Timothy Keller commented: “If you’re intolerant of people you think are intolerant, you’re still intolerant. If you are judgmental of people you think are judgmental, you are judgmental.” Sometimes smokers in our postmodern culture are intolerantly treated like outcasts.
We Christians need to remember to love the smoker even if we cannot tolerate their second-hand smoke.
Our prayer is that we as believers in Jesus would grow in joyful tolerance, loving the least, the lost, and the last.