Tolerating Intolerance

What is it that one can say to the inhabitants of a world that will pass away? Christians believe this world has a finite end. In the last book of the Bible we learn that sometime in the not too distant future, God will create a New Heaven and a New Earth and the Old Earth that is filled with pain, death and suffering will pass away (Rev 21:1). Could anyone really have a problem with the revelation that God has a plan and a program to deal with all the suffering in this world? So what can we say to our fellow travelers on this beautiful planet about God’s revelation and His plan?

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It all depends on whether we believe that those who have rejected the gift of eternal life from the Lord of Life will also pass away, or perish along with the old creation. Jesus uses the word “perish” in the famous verse from John’s gospel where He says:

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”
(John 3:16).

After 40 years of study I am convinced the Bible does not teach that everyone has an eternal or immortal soul. The Bible teaches God alone is immortal, and every individual who is born on our planet must “put on” immortality, just as Paul writes in his letter to the Corinthians. Those who reject the gift of eternal life from the Lord Jesus Christ will indeed perish, just as Jesus warned. Therefore, what I feel is vital to communicate to people who have yet to meet the Lord Jesus, can be quite different to the words other Christians who believe everyone has an immortal soul might say.

Since the very early days, when the concept of an immortal soul was introduced from Greek philosophy, the church has almost universally incorporated this doctrine into its teachings. Some traditions that have been added to biblical doctrine are blatantly obvious and easy to identify, but this idea is subtle, and for me it finds its roots in the Garden of Eden. Satan told Adam and Eve that God had lied, they would not die if they disobeyed their Creator (Gen 3:4) and he has introduced this idea into many pagan traditions.

I find no biblical teaching for this doctrine, the Bible seems very clear that God alone is immortal (1Tim 6:16) and we must “put on” immortality (1Cor 15:53-54). Yet people who claim to be Bible believing Christians insist that orthodox Christianity must include the doctrine that every human being, whether saved or unsaved, has an immortal soul. Why? And why are believers who accept this teaching so hostile to considering this doctrine might be wrong? I have actually met with a certain amount of hostile intolerance from other Christians to the idea of human mortality.

This intolerant attitude is not unique to Christians. I cannot find any empirical evidence to show people are born gay; it seems more likely that this is a choice people make about their sexuality. I believe this because numerous people, who thought they were gay, have chosen to leave that lifestyle behind. They assert that God has spoken to them and convinced them that this choice is the product of human, fleshly desire (Col 3:5-7) and that God has enabled them to move on. However, people who insist they were born gay have a problem with exgays and people like me.

I am happy to respect the rights of other people to hold their beliefs; that does not mean I have to agree with their beliefs, but I respect their right to hold them and I try to understand why they do. This courtesy is becoming less common amongst folk who believe people are born gay; they call me homophobic and some go so far as to say I have no right to believe what I believe. I am definitely adverse to homosexual behaviour, because the Bible teaches that this way of life is completely incompatible with a life where God is central and one seeks to follow the teachings of Jesus. To my way of thinking, condoning homosexuality is condemning those who practice it to a lesser life than the one God has for them. But that’s my belief, and I would think in our modern, democratic, tolerant society I would have the right to believe this.

People who condemn others because they don’t agree with their beliefs often feel they have grounds for disrespect or violence toward those people. This sort of intolerance can come in all shapes and sizes and may be held by people with various worldviews, but they are all acting from the same spirit, the spirit of intolerance. Christians can choose to love those who identify themselves as homosexual, or people who follow Buddha or Mohammad, because that is what Jesus commands and enables us to do.

While we choose to hold to our belief that Jesus Christ is the only Way, and continue to follow His teachings and guidelines from His Word, we can love and accept others who have completely different worldviews. As I strive to live a life of love towards all, no matter what their beliefs, I am also trying to learn how to tolerate the intolerance of others.

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