Let's Digress

How Tolerant is God?

Are God and Jesus infinitely tolerant? The incomplete short answer is, no.

To add to that, healthy, growing, and biblically literate Christian people aren’t supposed to be tolerant of certain things, either.

But how does one determine what to be and not to be tolerant of? Well, we have to judge things. A lot of things.

Don’t take my word for it, though; below is an excerpt from a book I’m currently reading, The Intolerance of Tolerance by D.A. Carson (Link at the bottom). This book is phenomenal and a much heavier read than I initially anticipated, complete with CS Lewis-syle logic and biblical accuracy!


     “Another central myth of our time is that God is infinitely tolerant, that Jesus is infinitely tolerant. There is of course a smidgeon of truth in such assertions. Despite his unlimited power and untarnished holiness, the tolerance of God is displayed in his forbearance with sinners (Romans 3:25Acts 17:30). He might be expected to provide instant justice, but instead he is long-suffering (to resurrect a word that has largely gone out of use), longing for our repentance (Romans 2:1-4). Scripture repeatedly says he is “slow to anger” (e.g., Exodus 34:6). He is so much more forbearing than his own people are that sometimes they are driver to question his justice (Habakkuk 1:2-4, 13). Nevertheless God’s forbearance is not infinite. Scripture also declares that “he does not leave the guilty unpunished” (Exodus 34:7). The Bible anticipate the coming of a day of wrath “when God judges people’s secrets through Jesus Christ” (Romans 2:16; cf. Acts 17:31Revelation 14:18; 19:1-3; 21:8). More important yet: God is better than tolerant. He does not merely put up with our sin and anarchy; rather, he is unimaginably kind and loving, demonstrated most overwhelmingly in the fact that he has sent his Son to pay the price of our sinfulness and restore us to himself. To talk about the tolerance of God apart from this richer biblical portrayal of God is to do him an injustice. His love is better than tolerance; his wrath guarantees justice that are tolerance can never imagine.
     Similarly with respect to Jesus. On the one hand, Jesus did say, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged” (Matthew 7:1)—though the biblically illiterate claim that this frowns on all attempts at moral discernment (though the verse occurs in the Sermon on the Mount, which abounds in moral distinctions) and prohibits making any moral judgments about others (though the same chapter presents Jesus as the supreme Judge [7:21-23] and requires that his followers make distinctions in people too [7:6]), paying no attention either to the immediate context or to the dominant emphases in Jesus’ life. In its context, this much-quoted passage condemns judgementalism—a self-righteous condemnation of others—not humble and moral alignment with what God himself graciously discloses. Still, Jesus was known to befriend public sinners, to weep over the city of Jerusalem for its blindness, to pray for the forgiveness of those who crucified him, and to demand that his followers love their enemies. On the other hand, this is not the entire biblical portrait. He speaks more of hell than does anyone else in the Bible, and he insists that he himself is the only way to the Father (John 14:6). In one chapter alone he declares six times, “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites!” (Matthew 23), declaring that they are “blind men” and a “brood of vipers” (23:19, 33). Small wonder the late Colin Gunton could write, “The value of such passages…is to show that he was not a tolerant man. And yet the means of its expression was from beginning to end unrepressive, even to the cross. That may be part of the cost the church will pay for following that lead in the repressive postmodern world.”

Carson, D. A. (2012). The church and Christian truth claims. In The intolerance of tolerance(pp. 102, 103). Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Pub.

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