The Test of Tolerance

I’m not a real emotional guy, nor one who really gets my feelings hurt often. However there was one time where I truly was affected by someone’s hurtful words towards me.

Someone saying something negative about me is not all together uncommon. As someone who is open about my beliefs, writes about them often, and talks to other people about what they believe, disagreement is to be expected.

What has always mattered to me was not that everyone agrees with me or only says nice things about me, but that those who know me, even if we disagree, know that I care about them and others. And that is what made that one time so very different.

I had a pretty close friend a few years back who said some things about me that I would only expect (or hope) to hear from someone who just didn’t like what I had to say on a subject. This particular friend’s words hurt because he knew me. He saw me walk through my father’s suicide, he was there when we would hold prayer meetings at UNC-Wilmington for our campus. But because he disagreed with me significantly on a certain issue, none of that seemed to matter.

But this is not about which one of us was in the wrong in that situation, its about what it really means to be tolerant. I think one of my favorite authors Tim Keller says it best:

Tolerance isn’t about not having beliefs. It’s about how your beliefs lead you to treat people who disagree with you.

Amen and amen. Many of us would probably agree that the most intolerant people we have known were not people who held what our society deems as unpopular views, but people who claimed to be or fight for “tolerance” the most.

This rise of supposed tolerance has always been interesting to me to begin with. You don’t tolerate someone or something you like or agree with, you tolerate things you don’t agree with. Just because you take a different position than someone else, that doesn’t make you intolerant. That’s the only way you are in a position to tolerate something! Unfortunately, since the definition of tolerance seems lost on many people today, honest and helpful “conversations” on any number of topics are rare.

If you are a follower of Christ, there is a good chance that many of your convictions on a number of things will automatically place you in the intolerant camp by others, regardless of how you treat people. What matters it not really what people who do not know you think, but how people who actually do know you view you. As the disciple Peter wrote,

In your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.

-1 Peter 3:15-16

There is nothing wrong with disagreeing with someone, what matters is that we love those we disagree with no matter how they may treat you. After all, this is exactly the way the Christ has loved us.

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