By Peter Holmes
HANDS up who is sick and tired of being told to be “tolerant”.
Judging by the way the popular media use the word, tolerance seems to mean, “allowing anyone else to do whatever they like to me, to other people, and to themselves”. One way this is expressed, sometimes even within the Church, is to suggest that we are “free” to believe anything we like provided we allow everyone else to believe whatever they feel like too.
In other words, you are allowed to believe in universal truth, so long as you don’t insist this truth is also true for anyone else. In short, you may believe in truth so long as you don’t insist that it is true.
This may seem to be a form of tolerance but it is, in fact, a form of tyranny over faith and reason.
It boils down to the proposition “There are no absolutes”, presumably with the exception of that proposition. You are “free” to propose anything you like, provided you don’t insist that it is true.
Christians too have often given in to the idea that Christianity is a religion of “tolerance”. I have studied the Scriptures daily as part of my full-time occupation for the past 20 years but I have never found this tolerant Jesus everyone keeps talking about.
Where is this “gentle Jesus meek and mild” in the Bible? Christ is, to be sure, gentle and kind to people in need, children, the poor and the sick.
He is deeply compassionate for the crowds and wept when his friend Lazarus died. His compassion extends to sinners, whom he says he specifically came to save.
Zacchaeus, the woman caught in adultery, the sinful woman who anoints his feet are all received with compassion, dignity and love. But his compassion is based on the knowledge something is seriously wrong, and it quickly turns to action to rectify the problem.
He is moved with compassion for the crowd who are like sheep without a shepherd, and so he teaches them and leads them. He is moved by the plight of the sick, so he heals them.
Jesus does not merely tolerate. He loves. God is slow to anger and abounding in love. But notice what drives Jesus to anger. Observe what Jesus won’t tolerate.
Jesus is patient, loving, caring for sinners, sick, and the lost. He loves them by firmly and gently pointing them to the truth. What makes him angry is when the people who should have been teaching people the truth have used their positions of God-given authority to promote falsehood.
He is especially animated in his anger when people attempt to sell God’s grace; the money and doves in the temple were necessary for sacrifices to God. The merchants were exploiting this to become rich.
Jesus never taught us to engage in anything so uncaring and unloving as to merely tolerate our neighbour. He teaches us to love.
Love recognises what is objectively good for someone and seeks that goodness for them. Real love is active love. Real love is a love that seeks good for our neighbour no matter what the consequences.
At Christmas, surrounded by people we love, who sometimes also drive us a little crazy, it is well to recall that the Christmas season is not a celebration of tolerance.
Peter Holmes is an Australian theologian.