Love & tolerance.

Incredibly ambiguous words. We are starting to hear the term “tolerance” more and more in our postmodern culture. Tolerance is praised by the media landscape, the academy, and our government. Everyone desires to be known as tolerant. People who are deemed “tolerant” become instantly worthy of praise. But what does the word “tolerant” mean?

I’ll give you an example of what true tolerance is. My wife believes that steamed broccoli is delicious, even after I assure her it is not. Broccoli is disgusting. It becomes even more disgusting when it is steamed on the oven. I believe there is nothing in this world that can make broccoli taste more appealing. It smells bad, tastes bad, it even looks bad!

Marissa disagrees. She thinks that broccoli is delicious, especially with cheese. Marissa could have steamed broccoli with every meal…Marissa and I respectfully disagree. I believe she is wrong and broccoli is disgusting, and she believes I am wrong and broccoli is delicious. However, we both respect one another and can live with the fact that the other person is wrong.

Allow me to give a greater (and more serious) example. My Pastor Jake and I disagree on a few things in regards to scripture. Jake believes that Jonah physically died before being swallowed up by the great fish. Scripture never says that Jonah died, but it does hint around the fact that Jonah was “brought back from the pit.” And that could certainly be interpreted as meaning that Jonah was brought back to life. Another passage that supports his interpretation is Matthew 12, when Jesus tells the Pharisees that…

“No sign will be given to (this generation) except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.”
Jesus certainly died and was laid in the earth for three days and nights, so it’s safe to assume that Jonah was dead as well, before miraculously being brought back to life by God. I believe that Jakes interpretation is reasonable, but I disagree with it. I do not believe Jonah died, because the text never specifically says that he did. We respectfully disagree with one another. This is not an essential issue, so we can agree to disagree.

But that is not the kind of tolerance that is being promoted in our society today. Our postmodern understanding of tolerance is very different than the examples I have provided. Tolerance today is understood as being “accepting” and “non-judgmental.” Tolerance no longer means that we can “agree to disagree,” it means that we must agree, affirm, and conform.

For example, Jake and I are not considered “tolerant” if we accuse each other of being wrong, even if we do so in a respectful manner. Jakes interpretation of Jonah is correct, and yet so is mine. Somehow, we are both correct in our interpretations. If we are to be considered tolerant, in today’s social climate, we must agree that both of our interpretations are correct, we must affirm that to be the case, and by doing so we conform to the idea that we may never know who is absolutely correct.

…Except one of us is wrong. Jonah could not have been alive and dead at the same time. Either I’m wrong or Jake’s wrong. We both cannot be right. Do you see the issue here? Postmodern tolerance is the enemy of truth. Postmodern tolerance would have the world sacrifice truth in order to be politically correct. I’m right, you’re right, everybody is right. There is no such thing as right and wrong, good or bad, truth or falsehood. It’s all a matter of opinion.

You have experienced this in our culture haven’t you? Spend a little time watching the news or surfing the internet, this false definition of tolerance is everywhere. To make matters worse, people who are considered to be the most “tolerant” are typically very intolerant. And those who are deemed intolerant are castigated, mocked and given little credence. Tolerance is promoted as being peaceful and non-judgmental, as long as you conform and stay in line. G.K. Chesterton, a British theologian in the 20th century, wisely remarked,
Tolerance is the virtue of a man without conviction.

Unfortunately for the world, Christianity is a faith that requires certain convictions. We must believe in absolute truth because we have encountered the way, truth and life. To be a Christian, one must confess Jesus as God, Lord and Savior. There is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved. (Acts 4:12)

What’s most unfortunate is that many Christians, in order to remain culturally relevant, have jumped on the secular bandwagon and are misusing Jesus as their “tolerance” spokesman. How many times have you heard statements like these, “Jesus says “Do not judge,” “Come as you are,” and “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone?” “Jesus hung out with tax collectors and prostitutes, so why don’t you all stop judging!” “Aren’t we supposed to love one another? Jesus commanded us to love people, no matter who they were.”
The only problem with those arguments is that they are half truths. J.I. Packer says this: “A half-truth masquerading as the whole truth becomes a complete untruth.” Jesus certainly did say “Do not judge,” but if we read that verse in its context we discover that Jesus was actually encouraging us to judge…only do so correctly. Jesus says we must first take the log out of our own eye in order to see clearly to take the speck out of our brothers eye. That is probably the most misused teaching of Jesus.

Jesus never said, “Come as you are.” Never. Not one time. In fact, Jesus’ first sermon was this, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matt 4:17) The biblical understanding of conversion always places an emphasis on repentance. We must confess our sins to God in order to be saved. Here is what Jesus truly said, “No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will likewise perish.” (Luke 13:5) But you wouldn’t know that if you listened to many Christians.

Did Jesus hang out with tax collectors and prostitutes? Yes. Did they continue in sin after encountering Jesus? Absolutely not. Matthew and Zacchaeus gave up their trade, and Jesus told the woman at the well to “Go and sin no more.” Jesus hardly gave approval to any sinful lifestyle. When the Pharisees accused Jesus of hanging out with the undesirables, He said “I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” (Luke 5:32)Did you catch that? Jesus ministered to sinners in order for their repentance. Jesus ministered to them; He did not party with them. Ironically, those who like to use this excuse have more in common with the Pharisees than the sinners.

Does Jesus command us to love everybody? Yes. Jesus even commands us to love our enemies. But what does that kind of love look like? This is where I believe many misled Christians get it wrong…They believe that love is synonymous with tolerance. They think that loving somebody means giving affirmation to their lifestyle. If they do not have the courage to do that, they simply keep their mouths shut. Although they know the truth, they refuse to voice it in order to not appear “intolerant.”

Anyone who has ever worked with children knows that love and tolerance are not synonymous. Is it loving for a parent to allow their children to continue in disobedience? No. A parent who fails to discipline fails to love. To Marissa and my horror, my daughter Evelyn loves to play with the electrical outlets in our home. We had to buy those little plastic covers that plug into the outlets like all good parents do. Do you think they deter my daughter? No, that’s my job. It’s my job to protect my daughter by keeping her away from the outlets. It would be incredibly unloving (perhaps evil) for me to allow my daughter to fool around with the electrical outlets.

And yet, I see so many parents “tolerating” their children’s disobedience. I often wonder if this false view of tolerance invading our society is simply an extension of bad parenting? Culture does begin in the home.

But love is not tolerance. And Jesus was not some dude who taught tolerance and political correctness…In other words, Jesus is not the Dalai Lama. Jesus is not a political pawn that can be misused and misquoted in order to push a worldly agenda. Jesus is love, and love can be hard…but it’s infinitely greater than tolerance.


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