“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.

Published in: on April 12, 2011 at 6:06 pm  Comments (6)  
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  1. My issue with this whole mess–and it IS a mess–is that a great many people seem very eager to help God do the correcting that is God’s role as a parent.

    Yes, in addition to being holy, love, eternal and all the other feel goody attributes people like to use when they turn God into SkyBear, Your Cuddly Friend!, God is just and a God of wrath. Were that not true we would still be in Eden.

    But my problem is that God clearly states that Vengeance is His, etc. Yet time and again I see Christians seem EAGER for wrath and vengeance to be displayed, for justice to be meted out on other sinners.

    Is this a church of fishers of men or of tattletale children? The Gospel is about more than telling other kids that dad’s gonna send them to hell when je gets home.


  2. I wholeheartedly agree……except for one thing; a dictionary will not work this problem out. How many times will a dictionary have more than one meaning for a word. Thats just what we need…more confusion (or, rather, another way for someone to try to evade the truth). For me, the only book needed here is Gods’ Word. It needs to be taught and understood as the final authority…sadly something that is absent in too many western church meetings. What people want is political correctness…unfortunately the Jesus of the Bible WAS NOT politically correct…He was just plain CORRECT.


  3. Anymore, the way words are used adds to the confusion. Who knows what a politician means when he says something? Today we’re told if we don’t raise our debt ceiling, the economy will go in a tailspin. Tomorrow we’ll be told we need to cut the deficit. What we think that means, isn’t what they mean.

    How many people understand the tax code, their health policy, their investment portfolio, or any other legal document? For these, we put our trust in the friend or professional who advised or sold us on the deal. I’m afraid that’s often true with our understanding of the scriptures. We trust a pastor or book on the subject. But we can’t afford to be misinformed on the essentials. We must know what the Word means.


  4. Would you prefer to be simply tolerated, or loved? You’re absolutely correct–the two don’t mean the same thing at all.

    I don’t appreciate the black and whiteness of this debate. Are the only dogmatic options really universal salvation and eternal torment for nonbelievers? I have difficulty reckoning either of those w/ scripture–but that’s what Christians appear to be left with for acceptable dogma, and so we have these polar opposites that continuously clash.


  5. Great post. Thanks for faithfully calling people in the church back to the Bible, back to the truth, back to the understanding that words mean something and God meant something when he gave us his word.


  6. Scripture is clear on it, Jill, re: hell. I understand that’s a hard concept to hold because who wants to see people we love or haven’t met yet to know who don’t believe and would end up in that hell? I have family who aren’t saved. It pains me especially when we have no idea what it’s like. It’s true on the other arguments…there’s alot more to the Bible, but when has the Bible ever contradicted itself? The Bible makes it’s doctrine clear whatever denomination you attend. God doesn’t change. That is why it’s so important we read the Bible in context and understand it. That we live in Him fully and completely not wishing anyone should leave your side without knowing Him. That means befriending an unsaved person, hanging out with him, not just to sell him Jesus, but because you love him, because God loves him. From what I heard, Rob Bell is setting people up for a faith crisis with bad doctrine. But then, I haven’t read the book. It’s amazing how he managed to make book sales and all from publishing bad doctrine. And we all helped in that by debating it, but if we didn’t debate it some unlucky person would buy it and believe it because to their heart it sounds right.


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