Tolerance is a hot topic today, in the news, on the streets, in the schools, in the workplace and even in church. But what, exactly, does tolerance mean? Is our God a tolerant God? And as Christians, towards what or whom are we to have tolerance?
The dictionary defines Tolerance as: The power or capacity of enduring; or the act of enduring.
To me, the defining term “enduring” means “to put up with”, as in I am enduring chronic pain and fatigue.
If “putting up with” is a correct understanding, then I would say that yes, God is indeed a tolerant God. He, in His great mercy, has certainly been “putting up with” humanity’s foolishness, selfishness, hard-heartedness, and wickedness. A big “BUT” is added here though because while God has been, and continues to be, very tolerant, He is only tolerant up to a point. And He will only remain tolerant for a little while longer before He releases His judgment and righteous wrath upon unrepentant mankind.
If you still don’t believe that God is tolerant, the following terms are synonymous with the word “enduring”:
ageless, continuing, dateless, abiding, eternal, everlasting, immortal, imperishable, lasting, ongoing, perennial, perpetual, timeless, undying
Along with the following related words:
ceaseless, endless, permanent, changeless, constant, stable, stationary, steady, unchanging, unwavering
If you read the Bible, you will notice that most of the above terms have been used to describe the character and person of God.
Deu 33:27 The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms.
Gen 21:33 And Abraham planted a tree in Beer-sheba, and called there on the name of Jehovah, the everlasting God.
Exo 34:6 And Jehovah passed by before him and proclaimed, Jehovah! Jehovah God, merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth,
Exo 34:7 keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin,
Eph 2:4 But God, who is rich in mercy, for His great love with which He loved us…
Another definition of tolerance is: capacity to endure pain or hardship : endurance, fortitude, stamina
I am sure that God endured emotional pain and hardship when He watched His Son, Jesus Christ, tortured and hung on a cross. And, I think God endures emotional pain and hardship when He watches His beloved creation, Mankind, make wrong and harmful choices over and over again.
Jesus Christ certainly endured pain and hardship during the entire episode of His trial and execution.
Isa 53:4 Surely He has borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.
Isa 53:5 But He was wounded for our transgressions; He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement of our peace was on Him; and with His stripes we ourselves are healed.
As the Son of God, Jesus had the Kingdom of God at his command yet he chose to tolerate and endure, with fortitude and stamina, what Man did to him, for the sake of Mankind.
Mat 26:39 And He went a little further and fell on His face, and prayed, saying, O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me. Yet not as I will, but as You will.
Php 2:8 And being found in fashion as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.
Having looked at the definition of tolerance and tolerant, along with Scripture, I do believe that God is a tolerant God.
HOWEVER, as I stated earlier, I also believe that God’s tolerance can only go so far. Because He is holy and His very character is righteousness and justice, He can not tolerate disobedience, sinfulness, wickedness, evil, injustice and unrighteousness to continue in Creation. God must, and will, put an end to all evil.
“To tolerate evil is to deny justice. God unleashes his full wrath on evil because he’s good. If good tolerated evil, it would cease to be good. Refusal to tolerate sin, then, is an essential part of loving others well.” (Melissa Kruger, The Gospel Coalition)
That He has tolerated it for so long, so that His plan of eternal salvation may be available to as many as who will accept it, shows His great love and mercy.
Joh 3:16 For God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.
Joh 3:17 For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but so that the world might be saved through Him.
Joh 1:12 But as many as received Him, He gave to them authority to become the children of God, to those who believe on His name, …
Rom 2:4 Or do you despise the riches of His kindness, and the forbearance and long-suffering, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?
It is very interesting to note that the terms “tolerant” and “tolerance” are not to be found in the Bible. Perhaps that is because God knew that Mankind would misunderstand and misappropriate their meanings; that Man would use them to mean that we are to accept whatever way in which someone chooses to live their life. I often hear the following phrases, “whatever floats your boat”, “whatever makes you happy”, “different strokes for different folks”, “as long as it isn’t hurting anyone”, etc., etc.
God does NOT say “Whatever you want to do, however you want to live your life, is okay by me”.
God does say:
1Co 10:31 Therefore whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.
Php 4:8 Finally, my brothers, whatever things are true, whatever things are honest, whatever things are right, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report; if there is any virtue and if there is any praise, think on these things.
There are things of which God is intolerant.
God is intolerant of sin and evil.
Isa 1:4 Woe, sinful nation, a people heavy with iniquity, a seed of evildoers, sons who corrupt! They have forsaken Jehovah; they have provoked the Holy One of Israel to anger; they have gone away backward.
Isa 1:16 Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; put away the evil of your doings from before My eyes; cease to do evil;
God is intolerant of wickedness.
Deu 28:20 Jehovah shall send on you cursing, vexation, and rebuke, in all that you set your hand to do, until you are destroyed, and until you perish quickly, because of the wickedness of your doings by which you have forsaken Me.
God is intolerant of the worship of other/false gods.
Exo 20:3 You shall have no other gods before Me.
Exo 34:14 For you shall worship no other god. For Jehovah, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God;
God is intolerant of hypocrisy.
Mat 23:25 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cleanse the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside they are full of extortion and excess.
God is intolerant of greediness and selfishness.
Eph 4:17 This I say therefore, and testify in the Lord, that you should not walk from now on as other nations walk, in the vanity of their mind,…
Eph 4:19 For they, being past feeling, have given themselves up to lust, to work all uncleanness with greediness.
Luk 9:23, 24 And He said to all, If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me. For whoever will save his life shall lose it, …
God is intolerant of injustice.
Eze 18:24 But when the righteous turns from his righteousness and does injustice, and does according to all the abominations that the wicked do, shall he live? All his righteousness that he has done shall not be remembered; in his trespass that he has trespassed, and in his sin that he has sinned, in them he shall die.
2Pe 2:9 The Lord knows how to deliver the godly out of temptation, and to reserve the unjust for a day of judgment, to be punished, …
God is intolerant of unrighteousness.
Deu 25:16 For all that do such things, all that do unrighteousness, are hateful to Jehovah your God.
Because God is loving and merciful, He has tolerated the ongoing sinfulness of unrepentant Mankind. God wants to give as much time as He can to as many people as possible to accept His plan of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. But God also knows that there will come a time when it will no longer be possible for Him to allow the wickedness to continue, and so He will destroy all who practice evil and wickedness.
2Th 2:8 And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the breath of His mouth and shall destroy with the brightness of His coming, …
Rev 11:18 And the nations were full of wrath, and Your wrath came, and the time of the judging of the dead, and to give the reward to Your servants the prophets, and to the saints, and to the ones fearing Your name, to the small and to the great, and to destroy those destroying the earth.
So what does this mean for Christians? How are we to respond to the topic of tolerance as it is viewed by the world today?
The Apostle Paul was led by holy spirit to write some very good advice in the Book of Romans.
Rom 12:1 I beseech you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God to present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, pleasing to God, which is your reasonable service.
Rom 12:2 And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, in order to prove by you what is that good and pleasing and perfect will of God.
Rom 12:9 Let love be without hypocrisy, shrinking from evil, cleaving to good;
Rom 12:10 in brotherly love to one another, loving fervently, having led one another in honor.
Rom 12:11 As to diligence, not slothful, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord;
Rom 12:12 rejoicing in hope, patient in affliction, steadfastly continuing in prayer,
Rom 12:13 distributing to the needs of the saints, pursuing hospitality.
Rom 12:14 Bless those who persecute you; bless, and do not curse.
Rom 12:15 Rejoice with rejoicing ones, and weep with weeping ones;
Rom 12:16 minding the same thing toward one another, not minding high things, but yielding to the lowly. Do not be wise within yourselves.
Rom 12:17 Repay no one evil for evil. Provide things honest in the sight of all men.
Rom 12:18 If it is possible, as far as is in you, being in peace with all men.
Rom 12:19 not avenging yourselves, beloved, but giving place to wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”
Rom 12:20 Therefore if your enemy hungers, feed him. If he thirsts, give him drink. For in so doing you shall heap coals of fire on his head.
Rom 12:21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
I think that Melissa Kruger summarized the issue well when she wrote about Christians and tolerance:
“Loving people well doesn’t mean we must embrace the choices they make. It means we openly welcome and embrace all who come into our lives with a heart of understanding and the message and hope of the gospel. We love people well when we call them out of sin into relationship with King Jesus. It may not be the world’s definition of tolerance, but it’s the truest way to love.”
Dear God, help me to be as tolerantly intolerant as You.