As modern society moves toward redefining marriage to include romantic attachments between members of the same sex, the rallying cry of the redefiners is “tolerance” and “acceptance.” One should tolerate everyone and everything. One should accept everyone as they are, not as they should be; those who fail to be tolerant and accepting, who obey God rather than man, are hateful, bigots, fit only to be attacked and demonized. Tolerance is perhaps the highest value of a secular society, but not, however, of a divine one.
When God walked the earth two thousand years ago, a member of the intellectual elite, wishing to test Him asked Him what was the greatest commandment. Our Lord replied, Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind'; and, 'Love your neighbor as yourself (Luke 10:27). Later, at His last meal with his disciples before His death and Resurrection, He gave them a last command saying,
A new commandment I give unto you: That you love one another, as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love one for another (John 13:34-35).
On multiple occasions Our Lord commanded love, but never once did He command tolerance. Never did he command his disciples, “tolerate others as I have tolerated you.” Never did He tell a sinner He forgave, “I accept you as you are.” He never merely accepted a person as that person was, but sent that person away as he should be. Recognizing that a person should be a certain way implied that the person as he was, was unacceptable. But though a person’s actions might be unacceptable and intolerable, that person himself was still lovable. Hence Our Lord could defend the woman caught in adultery from her attackers, but also tell her to “go and sin no more.”
Tolerance, as a former professor once told me, is simply the other face of indifference. And Elie Weisel, concentration camp survivor and author of Night, once remarked that the oppossite of love is not hatred, but indifference. Mere tolerance or acceptance is not simply a lesser form of love, but its oppossite. No one who loves anyone ever merely tolerates them. A wife who did not love her husband very much might tolerate his alcoholism (at least until it became inconvenient to her). She might accept him as he was and not bother trying to change him for the better. In such a case though, we should have to conclude the woman’s tolerance and acceptance indicated not the greatness of her love for her husband, but its smallness.
Real love may even entail a significant degree of intolerance and unnacceptance, because love always entails truth. In The Great Divorce, C.S. Lewis said that one cannot love a lie, he cannot love a thing that is not. Hence love entails truth and truth always entails not only the recognition of what is, but what ought to be. It may entail recognizing that a thing that is, should not be. Thus a woman’s love for her husband will entail recognition of what he should be and hence an unacceptance of him as he is and an intolerance of his alcoholism. It will be so even if her husband protests about her intolerance, insists that he is happy as he is, and insists that his wife accept him as he is.
Jesus never merely tolerated anyone. He loved them. Not the love of a modern secular world that is only sentiment, or romantic attachment, or a sort of weak tolerance or mere acceptance. Love is not tolerance. It is something both higher and holier, more terrible and more splendid. It is a cross and a crown of thorns, a battle and a fight, but not tolerance and not necessarily acceptance.