Imagine your child has invited a friend to your house. They volunteer to cook dinner on the stove. Before you leave the kitchen you say, “Do you remember the safety rules for the stove?” The visiting child replies, “Our family doesn’t believe in rules for the stove. We think the red burner is a symbol of joy and can’t hurt you.” “Well,” you say kindly “that’s an interesting perspective, but..” Before you can say anything else, your child interrupts, “Mom, please don’t be so intolerant. My friend is entitled to her beliefs and I think it is wonderful she feels so strongly about stoves. Don’t insult her by trying to force your beliefs about hot stoves and consequences onto her!”
So what do you do next? Let the visiting child potentially get a serious burn because you didn’t want to appear intolerant and question her “truth”? Or do you gently explain the reality of hot stoves and burns to her?
Tolerance has been redefined in our world. Your children are exposed to a very interesting definition of tolerance by society, probably by educators and even possibly by ministers and teachers in their church.
Today tolerance is defined as never questioning the beliefs of another person. There is no truth that is true no matter what – no absolute truth. Everything is relative and totally a matter of opinion. (Of course for many tolerance also means they will only tolerate your opinion if it matches theirs, but that’s for another day.) Any attempt to inform someone of the absolute truth when they believe a lie is not tolerated. (Yes, there is irony there!) And you never, ever under any circumstances let them know there are potentially serious consequences if they continue with their current beliefs.
I can promise if your kids turn on a television, read anything online or leave your house, they are exposed to this definition of tolerance on a daily basis. They begin to believe there is no absolute truth. They start to question sharing their faith with others because it means they may have to question another’s belief system. They become more afraid of appearing intolerant than they are afraid of another soul spending eternity in Hell because they did not take advantage of the opportunities to share their faith with them. They may even begin to question God’s Laws – why does He have a right to decide anyone’s “truth” by claiming there is only one truth – His?
So what should Christians be teaching their children about tolerance? I believe there is godly tolerance, but in some ways it is very different from the world’s definition.
- Godly tolerance boldly, but lovingly proclaims the one and only true God and His Words. Joshua is a great example of this. When Joshua was nearing the end of his life, he called all of the people together. Obviously after quite a few years in a land full of idols and false beliefs, the people knew there were options for “truths” other than the ones they were given by first Moses and now Joshua about the one true God. Joshua did not hesitate to remind them of why God is the one and only God and everything He had done for them. He tells them they must throw away the false gods some of them evidently were using. If you read the entire chapter (Joshua 24) though, there is a feeling that he really loved the people and was reminding them of the truth because he didn’t want bad things to happen to them. People will be much more willing to listen and consider the truth if they know we are sharing not to point out what idiots they are but because we honestly love them and want them to be in Heaven.
- Godly tolerance listens to what others have to say to us. Joshua listened when the people had something to say – even when he knew they weren’t really willing to do what he was calling them to do. He let them finish what they were saying and continued to listen every time they had something they wanted to say. He didn’t interrupt and tell them anything. He waited until they were finished before responding to what they had said.
- Godly tolerance stands firm and is willing to boldly share the consequences that will occur for ignoring the truth and choosing to believe and follow lies. Evidently Joshua was well aware many, if not all, of the people already had brought idols and false beliefs into their lives. Even though he listened when they proclaimed the opposite, he was not afraid to warn them of the consequences of continuing to believe and follow lies.
- Godly tolerance is not afraid to tell people how they need to change their lives to be obedient to God. Joshua didn’t hesitate to tell the people they needed to get rid of their idols to please God. Notice though, that although he was quite adamant about what they had to do, he didn’t use hate speech or name calling. He just stated what they needed to do in what I like to imagine was a quiet, firm voice.
- Godly tolerance does not use physical violence or hateful speech to force people to believe in and obey God. Although Joshua warned the people of the consequences God would give for not obeying him, Joshua did not use violence or hateful speech to try to force the people to obey God. In fact, he made it pretty clear they had the free choice to choose God or reject Him. This is actually the real definition of tolerance – each party is allowed to share their beliefs and attempt to convince the other of their “truth”. At the end though, each acknowledges the other’s right to make the final decision as to which belief system they will follow. Even when others choose to reject God, there is no indication God gives us permission to use violence and hateful speech or other means of forcing someone to accept Him as their God. Jesus is the perfect example of this. I am sure those who had him crucified had probably heard him preach the truth many times. They chose to reject that truth and crucify him. The Bible tells us Jesus could have called down angels to save his life and destroy his enemies. Yet he allowed them to continue to believe the lies over the truth he had been revealing to them. He was even willing to die a horrible death because they believed what they did.
- Godly tolerance obeys God no matter what anyone else believes is true. Probably everyone’s favorite part of that chapter is when Joshua says, “But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” (NIV) Joshua’s godly tolerance made him feel compelled to share the truth of God and His laws to the people. Joshua felt called to remind the people of the consequences they would face if they refused to believe in or obey God. Joshua listened to what they had to say and told them what they needed to do. He even gave them the free choice to make a decision to reject God. No matter what the rest of Israel did or didn’t do though, Joshua was committed to follow the absolute truth of God.
As Christian parents you must talk to your kids over and over and over again about godly tolerance. If they don’t practice godly tolerance and accept the world’s view of tolerance instead, the consequences could be catastrophic for your kids and the Church.