Why Tolerance is NOT a Christian virtue

Tolerance is a word that’s thrown around a lot. Tolerance is also a word that has lost its meaning. In English we say things like “He has a high tolerance level for pain (or alcohol);” meaning, this person can handle a lot of a certain thing before surrendering. According to Oxford Dictionary, that was supposedly the original meaning of the world from the Middle Ages. For more modern usage, in machinery, tolerance refers to permissible variance of specifications.

As a verb form, Oxford Dictionary defines it as: “to allow the existence, occurrence, or practice of (something that one does not necessarily like or agree with) without interference”. But what media and the post modern, liberal agenda really mean is: unconditional acceptance of a viewpoint, because in their mind, all viewpoints are equal and one must keep an open mind. The last two words in the definition: “without interference” is probably the fulcrum of their argument. Basically, if one is doing something that another disagrees with, as long as no one is hurting anyone else, why should the latter bother the former? Live and let live. So far so good, right?

The next step is now more complicated. Post modernists now turn to the one institution in the world that has made a stand on various issues. In fact, some of their viewpoints are rather dogmatic, radical, and … backwards? Which institution is this? Christianity. Christianity has declared that they worship a God of love. Christianity changed the world; it ended infanticide of unwanted female children by establishing orphanages… in the name of love. Christians opened thousands, if not tens of thousands of hospitals. Christianity ended the barbaric blood sport of gladiatorial combat. The founders of the Red Cross were Christians. The founders of the Salvation Army were Christians. When asked why, Christians often responded that they love because God first loved them. Not bad, so the secular minds think. We can do the same thing, but we just won’t mention God when we do it. Not bad, so the secular world thinks. God is love. Love means acceptance or tolerance. Hey, that means Christians ought to embrace us, even if we are doing something contrary to the Bible.

It even says so in their Bible – “Judge not, lest you be judged.” Matthew 7.1 is their favorite verse. Christians ought to be more tolerant, says the post modernist. Worse than the post modernist are the overtly immoral. How dare Christians judge us! Why, some of them practice the same!

This is where I stop.

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self control….” Galatians 5:22-23. Tolerance is not a fruit of the spirit. But wait! Shouldn’t tolerance be subsumed under love? Someone might object. “So what if my (fill in the blank) is doing drugs or is gay or is a murderer or embezzles company funds? I still love that person! Love the sinner, hate the sin.”

Read on.

Everyone knows the love passage from I Corinthians 13:4-8.

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. ”

But they often gloss over verse 6:  “Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.”

That’s right. If a person says he loves another person who is in sin or committing something immoral, he would not “tolerate” it.” Call it tough love. Call it “not enabling”. Call it what you want, but the reality is that true love never approves or tolerates any evil any time.  Pet owners know this truth: no matter how much they love their dog or cat, if that cat or dog poops in the house, two things will happen. First, the owner will clean up the mess. No matter how cute the dog or cat is, that mess has to be cleaned up immediately. Pet owners cannot show “tolerance” or love by ignoring the mess. Second, the animal will be disciplined. True love never leaves wrongs uncorrected. If pet owners know these truths vis-a-vis their pets, why don’t humans do the same to other humans?

I think C.S. Lewis put it best. In The Problem of Pain, he wrote:

“By the goodness of God we mean nowadays almost exclusively His lovingness; and in this we may be right. And by Love, in this context, most of us mean kindness- the desire to see others than the self happy; not happy in this way or in that, but just happy. What would really satisfy us would be a God who said of anything we happened to like doing, ‘What does it matter so long as they are contented?’ We want, in fact, not so much a Father in Heaven as a grandfather in heaven- a senile benevolence who, as they say, liked to see young people enjoying themselves’, and whose plan for the universe was simply that it might be truly said at the end of each day, ‘a good time was had by all’. . . . I should very much like to live in a universe which was governed on such lines. But since it is abundantly clear that I don’t, and since I have reason to believe, nevertheless, that God is Love, I conclude that my conception of love needs correction.” (pg. 35, Simon and Schuster) (emphasis mine)

But that’s the problem. No one, not even Christians, like to be told they are wrong even if it was “fun” and “never did hurt anyone”. Even Christians would sometimes honestly admit that they would want God to look the other way when it came to their sins. God is a holy God; meaning He cannot and will not  “tolerate” any sin. No exceptions. Grandfathers rarely discipline children, but fathers always. For parents not to discipline their children, it shows that they do not love them. God commands His children to be holy, as He is holy (1. Peter 1:16).

Jesus Christ further closed any loopholes. In the Gospel of John, He declares: “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” From attic Greek to modern English translations, the article preceding all the nouns have been rendered as “the”. Not “a”. You can call Christians narrow minded; you can call him intolerant, a bigot. You can call him puritanical, a fundamentalist Bible thumper. You can even change the definition of tolerance and make it about “love”.

But consider this: the laws of morality have not changed. Murder is still wrong. Theft is still punishable. Lies are still destructive. All of God’s promises and punishments still stand. They are not cultural phenomena. They are not invalidated due to the passages of time. Truth is still truth. And yes, I don’t even mind the label of being “intolerant.”

“In the world it is called Tolerance, but in hell it is called Despair…the sin that believes in nothing, cares for nothing, seeks to know nothing, interferes with nothing, enjoys nothing, hates nothing, finds purpose in nothing, lives for nothing, and remains alive because there is nothing for which it will die.”

― Dorothy L. Sayers

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