Tolerance, when properly defined, is a wonderful virtue. Tolerance is marked by kindness, forbearance and patience. Paul says of God in Romans 2:4 that the riches of His kindness, his forbearance and patience are all characteristics that bring us to a place of acknowledging God in our lives in the most profound ways. It’s His kindness that leads to repentance (saying yes to him and no to everything else).
Even a casual read of key texts, e.g., 10 commandments or the Great Commandment (Deuteronomy 6:5), give us the sense that God wants our heart, our affections and our whole being. In contrast, because he is a jealous God (Deuteronomy 4:24), He gives His people both in the Old Testament and in the New (1 John 5:21) strong warnings against idolatry: “you shall have no other gods before me” is for real!
There are several ways to define idolatry but it’s always much more (though never less) than a statue (or a 4.7 inch display in our pocket). It’s a question of the affections of the heart and is thus closely connected to obedience and disobedience. When we choose idols over the worship of God, we essentially say no God and yes to other things for guidance, provision and instruction.*
But there is much more going on. When we reject God as our moral arbiter, we create our own moral compass and whether the compass is off by one or 20 degrees, it’s still off. Soon enough, we develop tolerance for that which God has no tolerance; the opposite is also true as we may develop intolerance for the things God finds commendable. When the young man was told by Jesus to sell his possessions and to give them to the poor (Matthew 19:16-22), he went away “saddened.” He went away upset because he lost track of what God loves (taking care of the poor). He also lost track that the very wealth he had acquired was itself a gift from God. God intended the man to understand money as a commodity to serve the furthering of God’s purposes. Instead the young man saw money as something to be kept (his idols) and as a result developed an intolerance for the things God loves.
Paul gets to the same place when he challenges the guilty idolatrous person (whoever they are, Jews and Gentiles = the whole of humankind) in Romans 2:1-4. Our idolatry makes us intolerant even as, ironically, God is unbelievably tolerant/patience toward us!
Questions for the week:
Since Jesus exercises tremendous patience with us in all our wayward ways, are we extending the same of patience to others? (1 Timothy 1:15-16).
Where are we in this journey from setting up our own moral compass to embracing God’s, to embracing His definition of tolerance from ours?
*with input from Donna Petter and Matt Wilson.