Not Tolerance, but rather Longsuffering

An argument of the atheist in favor of their faith that there is no God sounds like: „If there is an almighty God, who is also loving and caring, how does he then tolerate so much evil in the world? How come he tolerates that many crimes and wars? How does he allow many children die from starvation while a handful of people have under control trillions of dollars and the destinies of billions of people?“ And, at first sight that seems reasonable. But, then, shouldn’t we see what the Bible says concerning what God tolerates?

In the book of Genesis we read that God had placed the man in a garden where He had „made every tree grow that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food “, having the liberty to eat of every tree in the garden, except one, thus having only one interdiction: „But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it; for in the day that thou eatest of it thou shalt certainly die“ (see Genesis 2-3). But, although only one thing was forbidden, man obeyed not. What did God do then? Being almighty, He could have instantly eliminated that man, and then make another one, but, being a loving God, he let Adam live nine hundred and thirty years. Doesn’t this look like tolerance? He tolerated the sinful man, whom He could no longer receive in His presence, to live more than nine hundred years. Yet, searching the Scripture we do not find the word tolerance, but, in turn, we find the word „longsuffering“(see Jeremiah 15.15, Romans 2.4, 9.22). He has been suffering for a long time man who has not done anything that pleases Him, for were He to execute judgement now, no man could save his life. But God says: „ Have I any pleasure at all in the death of the wicked? saith the Lord Jehovah; is it not in his turning from his way, that he may live?“ (Ezekiel 18.23). That is not the kind of tolerance that we show towards the ones that cause us displeasure just in order to avoid conflicts. For we usually tolerate those that cause us displeasure when we do not have the means to „fix“ them, and most of the times when we can chastise them we do not manifest any tolerance and chastise them as we consider they deserve. Yet God, although He has all the means to punish an execute judgment instantly, he manifests longsuffering towards man calling him to repentance in order to be saved. When it was proved beyond any doubt that „ None can by any means redeem his brother, nor give to God a ransom for him, (For the redemption of their soul is costly, and must be given up forever,)
That he should still live perpetually, and not see corruption “ (Psalm 49.7-9), then He sent His Son, the one having the same nature as Him and being equal to Him, to descend on earth in a human body, in flesh, becoming biologically the same as other man, but without any inclination toward sin, in order to pay that price that no one else could have paid, to be „the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world “ (Johnn 1.29). It was necessary that Jesus should die because „the wages of sin is death “, and the numerous sacrifices required by the law given through Moses were but figures of this unique and perfect sacrifice, for nothing on earth can represent, not even from one point of view, this priceless sacrifice. „For God so loved the world, that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whosoever believes on him may not perish, but have life eternal“ (John 3.16). and if „the wages of sin is death “, „the act of favour of God, eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord “ (Romans 6.23). That mean man cannot „earn“ through any efforts the right to eternal life, but God gives eternal life as a gift, for He is a loving God.

If God still allows so many evils and so much injustice in the world and does not execute judgment, that is because „God has not sent his Son into the world that he may judge the world, but that the world may be saved through him“, and He is still waiting men to believe in Him so that they may thus be saved. That is why „He makes his sun rise on evil and good, and sends rain on just and unjust“ (Matthew 5.45), for now is the time of His longsuffering. But, to those who refuse to believe in Him is given the stern warning: „or despisest thou the riches of his goodness, and forbearance, and long-suffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads thee to repentance? but, according to thy hardness and impenitent heart, treasurest up to thyself wrath, in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God“ (Romans 2.4-5).

It is longsuffering, but God will not suffer sinful man indefinitely: His longsuffering has limits. There will come a day when the period God’s longsuffering will end and He will judge the world, when the Lord Jesus will establish His kingdom on earth. Then would come the millennial kingdom, when the government of the Lord Jesus on earth is described as follows: „ Whoso secretly slandereth his neighbour, him will I destroy; him that hath a high look and a proud heart will I not suffer. Mine eyes shall be upon the faithful of the land, that they may dwell with me; he that walketh in a perfect way, he shall serve me. He that practiseth deceit shall not dwell within my house; he that speaketh falsehoods shall not subsist in my sight. Every morning will I destroy all the wicked of the land: to cut off all workers of iniquity from the city of Jehovah“ (Psalm 101.5-8). Yes, then will be the time when God will not tolerate on earth any manifestation of evil and will execute judgment instantly. Until then, when they are confronted with evil and injustice on earth, in their behavior the believers should have in view „Christ Jesus who witnessed before Pontius Pilate the good confession“ (1 Timothy 6.13). And what is that confession? When asked by Pilate if He was the king of the jews, Jesus answered „My kingdom is not of this world; if my kingdom were of this world, my servants had fought that I might not be delivered up to the Jews; but now my kingdom is not from hence “ (Ioan 18.36). This is an aspect that many who have a Christian profession never had in view: the fact that the Lord Jesus, the perfect man, who obeyed God in every detail, said „not now“ and is waiting the moment when He will come to reign. If He is not reigning, others got to reign claiming that they reign in His name. Did not this thinking lead to all kinds of abuses that the whole world condemns and make atheists declare that all religion, including Christianity, promotes intolerance?

Atheists declare that the intolerance, particularly that manifested by the Catholic Church (although even in the history of Protestantism there are also not a few instances of intolerance and extreme violence – it is true that fewer and on a smaller scale than in the history of Catholicism) is the continuation of the intolerance that the Israelites were enjoined to manifest towards the inhabitants of the land of Canaan, that the Lord had promised He would give them. How are things in fact? Yes, the Israelites have been commanded not to let alive any of the Canaanites because God had chosen then to be a people set apart especially for Him, that would testify to all the other peoples how He wishes the government on earth to be for a society dedicated to Him, and had told them that those people with their idolatrous customs would be a snare for them, making them slip into idolatry and infidelity towards Him. And that is what happened. The Israelites showed tolerance to those who did not honor God, and then they allowed themselves to transgress against all the commandments and ordinances that God had given them, to transgress against the one before whom they had taken a solemn oath saying: „All that Jehovah has spoken we will do “ (see Exodus 19, 20). This is man: inclined to be tolerant when God is dishonored by his fellow man, but when his pride and his interests are affected he manifests intolerance. That is what happened when the apostle Paul announced the gospel to the other nations and said that through the faith in the Lord Jesus both the Greek and the Jew are saved – then the Jews showed an extreme intolerance and wanted to put to death the apostle who said that, by their nature, the Jews are just as sinful as the other nations, and that anyone, no matter of nationality, can be saved only by the faith in Jesus. And that apostle Paul told the believers that, as far as it possible, they should live in peace with all man, not avenging themselves „ but give place to wrath; for it is written, «Vengeance belongs to me, I will recompense», saith the Lord. If therefore thine enemy should hunger, feed him; if he should thirst, give him drink; for, so doing, thou shalt heap coals of fire upon his head. Be not overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good“ (see Romans 12.16-21). Thus, the in the New Testament there is nothing that would incite Christians (while in Old Testament period there were no Christians) to intolerance in the relations in society. And if the Lord Jesus is not reigning now on earth, then the true Christians understand that it is not the time for them to fight for reigning on earth, but they should manifest tolerance towards those whom God still suffers and still calls to repentance, desiring that they should not perish, but be saved.

Just God’s longsuffering for the world as a whole has a limit in time, it also has limit in time for each and every human individually. For some the limit is set at seventy, eighty, ninety or even a bit more than a hundred years, God making a person pass through many experiences with pains and sufferings, maybe that person will finally repent. But „God speaks once, and twice – and man perceives it not “ (Job 33.14). And if man will not take heed to that which God wishes to tell him, then he reaches the limit of God’s longsuffering, beyond which he can’t be saved any more. What is the setting for that limit? God has set it for each individual according to His love and wisdom.

In Chapter 12 of the Gospel of Luke we see the moment when one reached that limit of God’s longsuffering, when, one night, God told him: „Fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee; and whose shall be what thou hast prepared? “ (v. 20). One may say that this is an exaggeration, but, I would rather say that, for those who never cease running after earthly things, this is the general rule. Imagining that their soul would rejoice and be at peace by accumulating earthly riches, they keep running deceiving themselves that if they would achieve one more thing then their soul would be able to repose and be merry for many years. Thus, the man in the parable thought that his soul would repose in the future, after having solved the problem with the granaries. That means that he had no joy, nor peace at that time, but had hopes he could attain them in the future. And one may continue that way until he reaches that moment when he learns that he has to leave this world. If some have happen to have a disease that cause them to suffer for a long time before leaving this world, and are thus given a chance to repent „in the eleventh hour“, others pass away suddenly, in an accident or being struck by a mortal disease that showed no symptoms until the last moment. No one may know exactly how long he may benefit by God’s longsuffering, so that every person should regard the salvation of his soul as an extremely urgent matter, because „ it is the portion of men once to die, and after this judgment“ (Hebrews 9.27). But the Lord Jesus said: „he that hears my word, and believes him that has sent me, has life eternal, and does not come into judgment, but is passed out of death into life“ (John 5.24). That is why, through the Holy Spirit, the apostle exhorts: „To-day if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts, as in the provocation, in the day of temptation in the wilderness“ (Hebrews 3.7-8).

He who is saved through the faith in the Lord Jesus ought to endure and manifest patience when confronted with injustice and malice in this world, even when such manifestations come from some who profess to be Christians. This is the meaning of the parable of the darnel in Matthew 13. There, the master of the field (the Son of man – Jesus) tells his servants to leave the darnel grow among the wheat, lest trying to destroy the darnel they would by mistake destroy also the wheat. The separation would take place at the harverest (figure of the moment when the Lord Jesus would come to reign on earth). So, those who, throughout history, have tried to weed-up the „heretics“ from the face of the earth – where they claimed they would establish the kingdom – have not followed the instruction contained in this parable, which is explained by the Lord Himself, resulting a plain doctrine that His servants ought not to seek to eliminate from this world the unbelievers.

If in the relations in the world a Christian should not manifest intolerance towards those who understand to live in a different way, yet, in his personal life he should tolerate no sin, that is that he should not allow himself anything that he knows is not pleasing God. Yet the Christians happen to sin often by mistake and because of their weaknesses. What then? Those sins are atoned by the perfect sacrifice of the Lord Jesus. For the cases when the believer sins by mistake, the apostle John says: „if we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins, and cleanse us from all unrighteousness“ (1 John 1.9). Once the sin is confessed, the believer’s communion with God is restores, for any sin that is not confessed burdens the conscience and interrupts the communion with God. Then, related to this, is the question how a believer is to take part at the memorial of the Lord’s death, according to His desire: „do this in the remembrance of Me“. The apostle Paul says: „let a man prove himself, and thus eat of the bread, and drink of the cup“. That means he should examine himself, whether in his life he does not have some sinful habit, and this not in order that he should not participate at the Lord’s table, but in order to put an end to the sinful habits he may discover. He should also examine himself and confess his mistakes and thus participate at the Lord’s table. „For the eater and drinker eats and drinks judgment to himself, not distinguishing the body. On this account many among you are weak and infirm, and a good many are fallen asleep (meaning they died). But if we judged ourselves, so were we not judged. But being judged, we are disciplined of the Lord, that we may not be condemned with the world“ (1 Cor. 11.29-32).

Concerning the communion at the Lord’s table, according to the Scripture, the Christian should not tolerate in that communion any person whom he knows to be living in sin. For instance, the apostle Paul tells the believers in Corinth: „Remove the wicked person from amongst yourselves!“ (1 Corinthians 5.13) – this being the measure they had to adopt for the case of one living in incestuous relations. Likewise, the believers should not tolerate in communion anyone having some false teaching, that goes against some principle in the Scripture: „if any one announce to you as glad tidings anything besides what ye have received, let him be accursed“ (1 Galatians 1.9). And, if one that is excommunicated, even for good reason, the excommunications should not necessarily be permanent, for he may be received again in communion once there is sufficient evidence that be ceased his bad practices or that he no longer maintains false teachings. Thus, in the second epistle to the Corinthians, the apostle writes to the believers: „Ye should rather shew grace and encourage, lest perhaps such a one should be swallowed up with excessive grief. Wherefore I exhort you to assure him of your love “ (see 2 Corinthians 2.5-8).

As to receiving one in communion, that is not something that ought to be done hastily, not before having sufficient information concerning the person’s way of life and the teachings that person receives. In this respect, the apostle Paul tells Timothy: „ Lay hands quickly on no man, nor partake in others’ sins “ (1 Timothy 5.22). That means that the associations with other persons who live in sin or receive or teach false teachings may interrupt a believer’s communion with the Lord, even if he personally does not practice sin and maintains no false teaching. When it comes to receiving in communion one who had previously propagated false teachings, then it is necessary that his repentance should be public and that the testimony about his repentance should have at least the same extent as the sphere where he had previously propagated false teachings.

Therefore a believer ought not to tolerate in himself anything that he knows to be somewhat different from what the Lord desires, and then that he should be very careful lest his communion with the Lord be marred by some association with one who has sinful habits or false teachings. Yet, in the relationships in the world, the believer’s behavior should have in view God’s longsuffering towards the sinner and the fact that He is still tolerating injustice in the world. „Jehovah said unto my Lord, Sit at my right hand, until I put thine enemies as footstool of thy feet“ (Psalm 110.1). Therefore, if the Lord Jesus, the perfect man, who is risen at the right hand of God, is waiting for the moment when His enemies would be set under his feet, His believers ought to have patience and wait for that moment. That is, most likely, the most difficult trial, the trial of our patience, when we are to wait for the Lord to provide the solution for a problem we are confronted with, while our nature cannot tolerate the sentence: „Cease ye from man, whose breath is in his nostrils; for what account is to be made of him?“ (Isaiah 2.22). Yet, glory to the Lord that he manifests longsuffering also towards His redeemed, towards His believers, when they prove to be „little of faith“ and takes care that „neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord “ (Romans 8.38-39).