Friday, August 3, 2012

The Tolerant God

My last three posts have all been on the issue of tolerance, so I figured I might as well conclude the week with a fourth post on the same issue, except this time looking at it through a theological lens: what does the Bible say about tolerance?  It says quite a bit about it when it comes to Christians interacting with each other and with the world, but as this piece from Desiring God points out, it may be most beneficial to realize that our God is a tolerant God.

When you think about all the things God has to tolerate in his creation, you can be humbled pretty quickly.  The ultimate, infinite, perfect Being of the universe exists (albeit, transcendently) with a finite, fallen creation.  Why would he bother?  Because God is patiently waiting for his plan to come to fruition, and while he waits he has to tolerate all of the sin and corruption of the world.  He is not bound to tolerate it - he could put an end to this whole thing any time he wants.  But because he is merciful and longsuffering, he has graciously chosen to tolerate the pride and ignorance of human beings.

To get a better idea of what this must be like, try to imagine the incarnation: God becoming man.  Jesus leaves the glories of heaven where everyone is worshipping him, to come to a place where people will despise and hate him; he leaves the feasts of heaven in order to come to earth and be perpetually hungry; he leaves the splendor of heaven to come to earth where he essentially lives as a homeless man; and the list goes on and on of how Jesus sacrificed elements of his divinity in order to come as a human being.  Why would he do it?  Only one answer: love.  Why does God not just destroy the world and everyone/thing in it?  Because he's loving and kind, and because he has a sovereign purpose that he's working out.

One thing the DG article doesn't bring out though, is God's intolerance.  Yes, God is definitely tolerant, but he is also intolerant (I think it's important to acknowledge that these two characteristics can and must exist simultaneously - see below), although not in the way that we think of when we hear the word "intolerance" used in modern speech.  God is intolerant toward any and everything that goes against his nature and character, or in other words, sin.  God will not tolerate sin.  Yes, he puts up with sin, but he will not ultimately tolerate it or allow it.  In the end, he will judge and punish all sin(ners).  One need not glance at the cross for too long to see God's utter hatred and intolerance for sin.  All people will know God's intolerance toward sin by way of his wrath and judgment in one of two ways: either through the death of his Son on the cross, or by spending eternity in the lake of fire.  One way or another, God's intolerance toward sin must be acknowledged and meted out.

I once heard Paul Washer say that someday he wanted to do some studying and develop a series of messages on the hatred of God.  People balk at that idea - the hatred of God?  God can't hate - God is love!  As Paul Washer says, that's exactly right, and because God is love, therefore he must hate.  Think about it: what do you love?  If you love it purely, then you hate its opposite.  If you love your kids, then you hate the thought of losing them; I love life, therefore I hate abortion.  Love necessitates hatred.  Tolerance necessitates intolerance (this is what's missing from the general public's understanding of these concepts - we can't all be tolerant).

As we've been talking about in our intergenerational Sunday School class this summer, God invites (commands) us to be like him.  He wants us to conform to his character (with the aid of his Holy Spirit).  Christians can and should be tolerant of other Christians and even toward those who hate God.  We cannot, however, tolerate sin in our own lives.  In this sense we have to be intolerant.  God also wants us to be intolerant of those things he is intolerant of: injustice, oppression, evil, etc. - anything that goes against his nature and character (the way this intolerance manifests itself in our lives is another topic for discussion, however, beyond the scope of this post).

Praise God that, although he is well within his rights to do away with the entire universe, that he is longsuffering, tolerant, and faithful to his promises.

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