Limits of Tolerance
We in the West are a culture of tolerance. We love to hold undefined tolerance in the highest regard as a value of the utmost good. At least, we Canadians do. Tolerance is the epitome of twenty-first century political correctness. Any display of the lack of it is definitely not tolerated. Even our Charter of Rights and Freedoms upholds it, doesn’t it?
Jesus has sent messages to the churches in Ephesus, Smyrna, and Pergamum in the book we call Revelation. We have seen how we can learn some truths from those messages. Now He adds Thyatira to His list of recipients, and He has a few thoughts on tolerance He wants to express. Listen to His opening words:
“These are the words of the Son of God, whose eyes are like blazing fire and whose feet are like burnished bronze.” That’s a powerful self-description. Those blazing eyes are able to burn through superficial appearances, into the depths of our motives and core beliefs. Those solid feet are set as an immovable foundation of truth and authority. That is His brand.
“I know your deeds, your love and faith, your service and perseverance, and that you are now doing more than you did at first.” Jesus knows everything going on in everyone’s lives. You and I are not faceless, nameless beings in a sea of humanity. He knows and notices everything going on in our lives, above and below the surface. He recognizes our feeble attempts at faithfulness as of eternal value. That is His way.
“Nevertheless, I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess. By her teaching she misleads my servants into sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols.”
Jesus is not duped by deception. He is not fooled by flattery or misled by monikers. He is not bound by some mindless code of behavior that demands tolerance toward those whose schemes are at cross-purposes to His intents. In fact, He is distressed when people are willing to tolerate those who mislead others into godless behavior. This is no new twist on tolerance; we have it inbred in us. What child tolerates his toys being snatched away by another? What student tolerates a teacher who unjustly awards low marks? What parent tolerates a sexual offender abducting her child? What employee tolerates his contract being deliberately ignored or broken? We all have an inherent intolerance toward these injustices, because we understand they are abuses of power, dangers to lives, or work against the common good of society.
The menace of this self-proclaimed ‘prophetess’ Jezebel was in her influence over others. Her behaviors directly or indirectly taught others godless behaviors. Godless behaviors lead to godless mindsets, and godless mindsets to self-destructive lives. Jesus wanted the lives of His followers in Thyatira to be marked by sexual purity, spiritual health, and emotional joy; He wants as much for our lives too. Only He knows what is truly good for us. He engineered us; surely He knows what will bring us ultimate fulfillment.
“I am he who searches hearts and minds”, Jesus reminds us. There is no hiding from Him. That’s good news, knowing he will not misunderstand our motives – if they are good. But it’s bad news if we have been tolerating unsound beliefs, unwise teachings, or ungodly behaviours.
This news should be no stranger to us. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms includes limitations on certain rights. We don’t mention it often, but it’s there in black and white: the principles of fundamental justice prevail over individual rights. We are not to tolerate behaviors that obstruct fundamental justice. (See Part 1, Section 7: http://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/eng/const/page-15.html#docCont). Tolerance has its boundaries.
So let’s be tolerant when it involves the good of others. But let’s not forget Jesus’ warning to stand up against the people and practices that obstruct principles of fundamental justice and human goodness. Jesus loves individuals, not propagandist hype. May we not use the concept of tolerance to disguise disrespect for the high and noble standards to which our Creator calls us.
(Photo Credit: Toby Hudson, Wikimedia Commons)