“Love” Does Not Mean “Tolerance”


With all the communication in today’s western society, you’d think we would understand that words have meaning, yet I see blog visitors and hosts alike reminding each other of this fact with some frequency.

The message, however, doesn’t seem to be getting through to everyone.

Take, for example, a lengthy interaction regarding a recent article looking at our view of God in light of our view of hell, generated by Rob Bell’s book Love Wins. In a particular exchange, one commenter declared that he saw the holiness of God as love. The person with whom he was interacting say, no that God’s holiness means justice.

Stop, I wanted to shout. God’s holiness means holiness! Holiness is different from love, as it is different from justice.

In like kind, I’ve seen in a number of discussions on universal salvation, Rob Bell, and Love Wins, either an implication or an accusation that those who disagree with Mr. Bell’s views are intolerant.

What Pastor Bell’s opponents need is a lot more love and a lot less hypocrisy, they say. After all, his critics are exclusivists, happy to see billions and billions of people marching off to an unending fiery ordeal (at this point, some insert graphic details, after which they loudly declare that they could never worship a god who would do such a thing).

In one post I even read that some consider the reaction to Mr. Bell’s book “persecution,” and they likened the treatment he’s received to that meted out to Christ.

It’s time for us to get out the dictionary, I guess. Last time I checked, love does not mean tolerance. Someone who loves may be tolerant, much as God is tolerant of us. Some who claim His Son’s name accuse Him in the same way Satan did — “Has God really said …” and yet God in His loving kindness does not strike down every false teacher. That’s tolerance.

He’s also tolerant, which works itself out as patience, in that He doesn’t judge the world prematurely:

The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.
– 2 Peter 3:9

However, I can think of instances when tolerance is not prompted by love but by greed or selfishness. Take for example the current game of Survivor. There is one individual who has made himself odious to his alliance because of his personality quirks. However, for various reasons — his physical strength, the fact that his personality makes him no threat to win — his group has kept him in the game. He serves a purpose, so they put up with him. But clearly their tolerance has nothing to do with love.

On the other hand, love is not always tolerant. Sometimes it requires a short leash or a rod of correction. Every parent knows this to be true. A loving parent is not going to tolerate a toddler running into the street. Doubtful that we’d ever hear, I love him too much to tell him he’s headed for danger.

Clearly, love is separate from tolerance. Sometimes love may express itself as tolerance, but other times it will not. And sometimes tolerance is motivated by love and sometimes it is not.

So, no matter what else takes place during the discussions about Rob Bell and Love Wins, can we please put to bed the idea that people who disagree with him are unloving because they aren’t tolerant of his views? Love and tolerance simply do not mean the same thing.

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Published in: on April 12, 2011 at 6:06 pm  Comments (6)  
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