Let me begin by saying…The Old and New Testaments explains that God does not change. However, some people believe the perceived “harsh and intolerant” God of the Old Testament is not the perceived “loving and tolerant” God of the New Testament.
But notice: “For I am the Lord, I change not” (Mal. 3:6), and “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and today, and forever” (Heb. 13:8). Other scriptures explain that the God of the Old Testament was the Being who later became Jesus Christ (I Cor. 10:4).
In Exodus 34:6, it describes God: “…the Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth”.
The words in this passage show. God is merciful, which means “full of compassion.” He is also gracious. The root of this word means “to bend or stoop in kindness to an inferior.” God also suffers long, or forbears, and is abundant in goodness and truth!
Does this describe a God who is harsh and intolerant? No! Does it describe a God who is patient with us and is able to look past some things? Yes!
With that said, we shall see that God is not tolerant in the same way that we are today!
In Psalm 78:38: “But He, being full of compassion, forgave their iniquity, and destroyed them not: yes, many a time turned He His anger away, and did not stir up all His wrath.” Time and again, God forgave Israel of her sins, even when she wanted nothing to do with Him. Yet, anger was still present.
But how do the two above passages line up with some of the accounts found in the Old Testament? For example, consider Korah’s rebellion (Numbers 16). God did not tolerate Korah’s rebellious attitude toward Moses. Because of this, thousands of people died.
God did not tolerate the wrong attitude of Moses’ sister Miriam—she contracted leprosy because of it. But even in this case, God did show mercy, healing her seven days later. So, do these two (apparently) different aspects of God’s actions line up? Yes!
Now in the New Testament. There is a scripture we can turn to when we want to advocate tolerance without limits. The account is found in John 8:1-11, but the often quoted scripture is verse 7: “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.” What is the modern-day application of this passage? It is clear. We should not cast stones at others—in other words, we should not condemn anyone. Christ’s listeners had sentenced the woman in their “minds”. They had “condemned” her. Don’t take this the wrong way…this verse does not mean we should always accept people’s actions.
Notice what Jesus said in verse 11: “Neither do I condemn you: go, and sin no more.” Christ did not condemn the woman in this account, as the Pharisees wanted to do, by stoning her to death. On the other hand, He did not tolerate her sinful way of life. Jesus told her to change. Jesus Christ did receive sinners, as so many claim, but He did not condone or “approve of” the sin! However, to overlook another’s offence does not imply tolerance. Especially without knowing the complete history.
Jesus knew the beginning from the end. Every detail. Many times we suspect that we know all there is to know concerning a person or situation, and apply the wrong medicine. Causing more harm than good! Therefore, my point is that there are times when we simply need to overlook some things. We should never….. ever be put in a position to condemn anyone without knowing without a shadow of a doubt…. why they acted in a particular way. Again, we must know the facts! Not some of them. All of them! And even then we should always extend grace and mercy to the individual in correction. As our Lord and Savior has done many times on our behalf.
Ok the definition of tolerance is entirely subjective. There are degrees of tolerance. Every “reasonable” person would admit there is a “limit” to what we can accept. There are probably very few who would accept a serial killer as one who has “chosen a different lifestyle.” This is because murder is viewed as wrong.
Which brings me to the subject of Good and Evil.
What is evil? Evil is obviously the opposite of good. To determine what is good or evil, a benchmark or authority is needed—otherwise, it is just an opinion. As the Creator of the entire universe, God defines what is good and evil; right and wrong. From this we learn what sin is—the transgression of God’s Law (I John 3:4). From that Law we determine what we should and should not tolerate. The world bases their “morals” on feelings, and sadly some Christians too. But we should base ours on the Bible.
As with many things, the world has a mixture of good and evil. This directly derives from a choice made thousands of years ago by Adam and Eve, when they took of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. For example, it is wonderful that tolerance is taught toward different cultures and people of different ethnic backgrounds. Every human being is made in God’s image and should be treated as such. However, there is also evil mixed in, where different types of sin are promoted as normal and acceptable. In this mixture, there is no sense of balance. Tolerance can be a good thing. However, society is now taught to tolerate everything.
Consider. Love is good, but does that mean we should love everything? Must we love changing the oil in our car? Of course not. Patience is also good, but does that mean we should be patient with everything? Must we be patient if we see a house burning or our dog running into the street when a car is coming? Again, of course not. These are obviously extreme examples, but we get the point.
Many things in life require balance. When it comes to tolerance, there are some who seem to accept any kind of behavior. There are others who do not accept anything, and “get in your face” when you do something or believe something contrary to what they do or believe. Both ditches are wrong.
Only God’s government, when Christ returns, will solve the world’s problems. But right now, most people are cut off from God, and do not have knowledge of His Law. This understanding—on top of the fact that Christ said we should never condemn people—should help us understand how we should react to people in this world. Obviously, getting in someone’s face will not help. Lifting ourselves up and thinking we are better than others is also wrong. In dealing with situations, we must always ask God for wisdom to approach something or someone in a balanced way.
Here are some synonyms for tolerance from God’s perspective: excusing, forbearing, forgiving, kindhearted, longsuffering, merciful, patient, receptive and understanding. These words should describe us in a host of situations.
Here are some synonyms for intolerance from God’s perspective: accusative, critical, condemning and holier-than-thou.
If we are to take two points from this, one would be to not tolerate sin; the other equally important point would be to take the synonyms for tolerance listed here and apply them daily.
We should be tolerant and understanding of different cultures, backgrounds and other differences with which we are not familiar. If people have physical weaknesses or disabilities,we should be very understanding, and not in a condescending way. Be forgiving when people make mistakes. Be tolerant of other personalities—if we all had the same personality, the world would be a very boring place! This aspect of being tolerant, in many regards, can be described as having an outgoing concern for others. And at times, choosing to overlook