Rene’ Dubos, the famous French-American microbiologist, pathologist, environmentalist, and PulitzerPrize-winning author once stated “Human diversity makes tolerance more than a virtue; it makes it a requirement for survival.”
I could not disagree more. Tolerance is not a virtue. Perhaps you are thinking “Did he really just say that?” Yes I did. In fact if your blood pressure is precipitously rising, chances are you have heard me correctly. But my statement regarding tolerance is an indisputable fact. In his Republic, Plato lists four cardinal virtues: prudence, temperance, fortitude, and justice. Great theologians such as Saint Ambrose, Augustine, and Thomas Aquinas lauded and advocated these virtues in later years. Nonetheless, technically, tolerance is not a virtue.
But morally speaking, is tolerance a virtue? I don’t think so, and frankly, neither does the Bible. Merriam-Webster.com defines tolerance as “sympathy or indulgence for beliefs or practices differing or conflicting with one’s own; the act of allowing something.” To many people the word tolerance connotes that we “put up with” other people, that “we grin and bear it” in our attitude and treatment of others. However, does God want us to simply demonstrate rote sympathy, indulgence and allowance towards other people’s genuine thoughts, actions and speech? Do we exist merely to “survive” one another?
First off, tolerating people (in my humble experience and observation) does not engage them. How can you positively interact with a person when you are just putting up with him or her? Tolerance seems like a “me” centered and passive approach to relationships. You let people do their thing while you do yours. Everything is cool if people that disagree can just steer clear of one another. However, the ultimate problem with tolerance is this: it will not suffice because Jesus showed us a better way.
In Mark 12:30-31 Jesus commands his followers to “…love the Lord God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence and energy.’ And here is the second: ‘Love others as well as you love yourself.’ There is no other commandment that ranks with these” (Bible, The Message version). Notice the singular “commandment.” Jesus is arguing that you prove your love for God by loving the people around you. The word used here for “love” is the word agape. This is an “other” centered love; it means to “love someone more than one’s own life.” Agape originated with and was first demonstrated by God himself. It is God’s love revealed to the world through the sacrifice of his son, Jesus Christ on the cross. We are talking about the radical, unconditional love that God has shown us in Christ! This is the love where God says “You are mine and I love you” regardless of all the trash in your life that you hide in the dark crevices of the soul.
Therefore to truly love someone, that is, love expressed in its highest form, is to love that person with God’s love, to care for that person more than you would your own life. It is putting their interests and their welfare ahead of your own. Tolerance allows for the existence of, but agape searches after and embraces. Tolerance permits, but love accepts. That is hardcore. That is intense. That is revolutionary! So as you can see, tolerance is setting the bar way too low and settling for less than God’s best.
At the end of the day, the greatest thing about agape love is that it transforms us. It initially accepts us as we are, but it never leaves us in the same state we were prior to being touched by it. Once you have experienced God’s unconditional love for you, expressed in the person of Jesus Christ and through the lives of agape committed Christ-followers, you will be changed. Because once you know you are loved in spite of all your flaws and shortcomings, you are empowered to shed them and grow to become the person Jesus Christ dreams of you to be and desires you to be. God’s love frees you to become the best you, the real you.
And you should not tolerate anything less!