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Is God Intolerant?

We all know that God has a serious problem with sin, but why can’t he be less demanding and more understanding of our imperfections? We may think something like Why can’t God just be more forgiving and overlook our weaknesses and failures? If he is truly loving he should be more tolerant of our shortcomings, right?

 

The reality is that God is merciful, but that isn’t quite the same as being tolerant. First, many people fail to understand the seriousness of sin and the great cost to God personally to forgive us our sins. When we see the combination of his holiness and justice we gain a greater understanding of his mercy. And that will go a long way to answering why he can’t tolerate sin and yet can be merciful at the same time.

 

There is a reason God can’t stand sin. You see, his core nature is holy and pure. There is no impurity of motive or action with him, for he is perfect and without sin. (See Deuteronomy 32:4; Isaiah 54:5; and Revelation 4:8.) So a holy God cannot be in relationship with sin in any manner. The Bible says of him, “Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; you cannot tolerate wrong” (Habakkuk 1:13 niv). He is so holy that he “cannot allow sin in any form” (Habakkuk 1:13). To do so would violate the very essence of who he is.

 

The Separation

 

So our sin naturally separates us from God. And a relational separation from him causes spiritual death. The “wages of sin,” the Bible says, “is death” (Romans 6:23). It is this death or separation from God that preserves his holiness.

 

And yet because he is a God of love, the Bible declares of him that “you…delight to show mercy” (Micah 7:18 niv). King David said that his “mercy endures forever” (Psalm 107:1 nkjv). In the New Testament it says, “God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much” (Ephesians 2:4). But even with God being merciful toward us, there is the problem we mentioned—the problem with sin. God can’t have any relationship with sin, and we as humans have a condition called sin. So what is he to do?

 

How God’s Characteristics Combine

 

The answer lies in the combination of his loving mercy and his perfect justice. Mercy in and of itself cannot overlook or even forgive sin without sin being dealt with justly. Sin has to be paid for. And that is where God’s justice comes in.

 

“The Lord is just!” the Bible says. “He is my rock! There is no evil in him!” (Psalm 92:15). “All his acts are just and true” (Daniel 4:37). It is his just nature that demands that sin be separated from purity, that wrong be righted, and evil be vanquished. Yet in this righteous insistence upon justice, he is still merciful. “We cannot imagine the power of the Almighty; but even though he is just and righteous, he does not destroy us” (  Job 37:23). So instead of being tolerant of our sin, God’s sense of justice combined with mercy makes the payment for it.

 

So in his mercy he pays for our sin with nothing less than the life of his only Son. We inherited our sin condition at birth from the first human couple that sinned (Romans 5:12). But “God paid a ransom to save you from the empty life you inherited from your ancestors. The ransom he paid was not mere gold or silver. It was the precious blood of Christ, the sinless, spotless Lamb of God” (1 Peter 1:18-19).

 

The “spotless Lamb of God” satisfies the demand of both God’s holiness and his justice. His holiness is satisfied because Jesus was sinless—a perfect sacrifice without sin. We are “justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood” (Romans 3:24-25 niv). His justice is satisfied because Christ’s death paid our “wages of sin,” which is death. God paid a very high price to grant us forgiveness. While he cannot be tolerant of sin, he has paid the price so he can extend his mercy to us through Christ.

 

This chapter originally appeared in 77 FAQs About God and the Bible by Sean McDowell and Josh McDowell (2012). Used by permission from Harvest House Publishers.

 

Comments

I'm really sorry, but this is just so completely, completely wrong.

God IS tolerant of sins. If He were not, we would have been destroyed long ago. (Malachi 3:7)

Unsound usage of passages from Habakkuk aside, the Apostles are actually very direct and clear on this topic. "Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?" Romans 2:4

God IS kind. He IS tolerant. He makes the sun shine on the wicked and the righteous alike (Matthew 5:45). He is withholding his just judgment on the wickedness of wicked men until the end. He is giving everybody opportunity to repent, because He does not take any delight in the death of the wicked (Ezek 18:23) and He desires that everyone come to know the truth (I Tim 2:4). Yet, men have free will, and can choose their own destruction... which will come in due time.

Nor is the misery of the wicked caused by God deliberately withholding himself. No, He's not too holy to come close to us. Rather, it is we ourselves who hold ourselves apart from Him. It was not God who dove into the bushes to hide when men sinned in Eden, it was man. It is not God who pushes us away; WE push HIM away. He would gladly help us if we would permit Him. We hide ourselves from Him, and refuse to come to the One who could rescue us.

This notion of God being so holy that He cannot have sin in His presence is a notion that appears nowhere in the Bible that I can see. It was produced to support Penal Substitution Atonement, a distorted theological construct that did not appear anywhere in Christendom until the 11th century, and is not in any way required for Christian orthodoxy. I recommend that you abandon it, adopt something like Ransom Theory that was endorsed by the Church Fathers, and then sort through your theology to rid it of these artificial constructs that make Christians sound so irrational and intolerant. God is a lot friendlier than Evangelicals make Him out to be.

Hi Phil,

Your point regarding tolerance is merely semantic. Yes, God does tolerate sin in that he is longsuffering. No, he does not tolerate sin in that he is just. Sean's post is obviously addressing tolerance from the second point of view.

1 Tim 2:4 is referring to all kinds of men, not every single individual. Paul's point is that God saves all kinds of people, and for that reason we should pray for all kinds of people. See the three preceding verses.

If God wanted all every single individual to be saved then every single individual would be saved. Man's will does not thwart God's desires. God does whatever he pleases (Ps. 115:3). Salvation is of the Lord, not man. "Behold, the Lord's hand is not shortened, that it cannot save." (Is 59:1) Yet you would say his hand can be shortened with your blasphemous claim that man has to "permit" God to help us, even save us.

Penal substitutionary atonement does not presuppose the idea that God literally cannot reside in the presence of sinners. Obviously he did when he became a man. PSA presupposes the Levitical system---that a sacrifice must bear the wrath of the judge---this is the propitiation spoken of by Jesus, John, Paul, and Isaiah:

4 Surely He has borne our griefs
And carried our sorrows;
Yet we esteemed Him stricken,
Smitten by God, and afflicted.
5 But He was wounded for our transgressions,
He was bruised for our iniquities;
The chastisement for our peace was upon Him,
And by His stripes we are healed.
6 All we like sheep have gone astray;
We have turned, every one, to his own way;
And the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.

Amen.

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About
Sean McDowell is a teacher, author, speaker, husband and father. He is an avid fan of college basketball, ping-pong, and his favorite superhero is the Amazing Spiderman.