THOUGHTS FROM REVELATION

A PERSPECTIVE ON TOLERANCE - 3

In this final meditation it is tolerance that is in focus, not the intolerance commanded by Jesus and expressed by his absolute claims. On the surface, it would seem that there is no room left for Christian tolerance. But to come to this conclusion would be to be greatly mistaken.

Intolerance rightly recognizes when someone is teaching what the Bible calls ‘false teaching’. Intolerance rightly recognizes thoughts, attitudes, words and actions that the Bible outlaws as sin.

But in the midst of this biblical, and therefore Christian, intolerance, there must also, at the same time, be something that looks very much like tolerance – tolerance that does not react immediately, tolerance that bears with people in their ignorance and weakness, tolerance that gives people time to change, time to repent of their false beliefs, time to repent of their sinful actions, time to turn or return to the Lord.

Thus Jesus, in Revelation 2:5, gives the church in Ephesus time to reverse their diminished love.
Thus Jesus, in Revelation 2:16, gives the church in Pergamum time to repent of its failure to address the presence of false teaching and practice.
Thus Jesus, in Revelation 2:21, states that he had already given the false prophetess, Jezebel, time to repent.
Thus Jesus, in Revelation 3:3, gives the church in Sardis time to repent and to remember.
Thus Jesus, in Revelation 3:20, stands at the door, knocking, waiting.

And this waiting, this incredible patience of God, has characterized him from the very beginning:

He tolerated the saturation point sinfulness of the ancient world for those additional years while Noah preached ‘righteousness’ [Genesis 6:5; 1Peter 3:20; 2Peter 2:5].
He tolerated the sinfulness of the Canaanite nations until their iniquity had maxed out [Genesis 15:16].
He sends his rain and his sunshine on both the ‘just’ and the ‘unjust’ [Matthew 5:45].
He permits the ‘tares’ to exist beside the ‘wheat’, lest some be wrongly rejected [Matthew 13:24-30].

This tolerance of God cannot be confused with approval. Nor can it be confused with unconcern. It exists and is exercised in the very midst of God’s utter intolerance of all that is false and all that is ungodly. The very concept of tolerance exists only because ‘wrong’ exists. If everything and everyone was ‘right’ ‘tolerance’ would be meaningless and redundant.

And it is this tolerance of God, in which he suffers what is ‘wrong’ to exist, that attracts to God the accusations and mockery of the unbelieving world:

God is accused of being unjust because the ‘wicked’ go unpunished.
God is accused of being unloving because ‘innocent’ people suffer.
God is accused of being powerless because he seems to do nothing to stop the world’s evil.
God is accused of being untrustworthy because the promised return of Christ and the associated judgment have not yet come.

The tolerance of God that now largely protects the world from his judgment, will, as in the days of Noah, come to an end. The last judgment will fall. But until that day, while the deep grace and sustained patience of God keep his tolerance in play, there is room for repentance, there is time to escape the judgment [2Peter 3]. Those who bear God’s name must also display this patience, this grace, this hope for the world – this tolerance, patiently enduring the mockery, the pressures to conform to the norm, the persecution [Revelation 1:9; 13:10; 14:12], as they hold to and hold forth the word of God and the testimony of Jesus.

© Rosemary Bardsley 2015