So many times, so many years, I declare at the beginning of the year that I am going to follow a read through the Bible in a year program. One year I purchased the “One Year Bible” to help me accomplish this task. I failed miserably each time–until this year!
This year I decided to try something and it has worked. I have been tearing out the pages for each month out of the binding so that I am able to tuck one month’s readings in my purse. It’s always with me. I typically have time to read the daily portion when I first get to work in the morning, but if something comes up, or it’s one of the days of the week when I’m not working, then I always have it with me. What I’ve attempted, and seemed to have accomplished, is to remove the excuse that has sabotaged my efforts in the past.
And I’m happy to say: I’m still reading and have only had to play “catch up” a couple times. The other thing I am quite happy to say is that I am totally enjoying it. I look forward to it. Well, until this week anyway.
This week has been different. Up until now, I have really gotten excited about the journey of God’s people and seeing things in the Old Testament story that point me to things in the New Testament. It’s been neat to make those kind of connections. But this week I became troubled by all the God-endorsed and God-directed (ordered) killing that was done as the Children of Israel entered the Promised Land. It felt hostile and intolerant. It made me uncomfortable. Surely God didn’t want to have that kind of rep. Surely God didn’t want to come across that way to people who are just considering following him. Could he?
I am a completely sold out to the idea that what we have contained in the Bible is there on purpose and for a reason. I don’t always see or understand what that reason is–and this is just such a case. It has left me with a great big, “Why?”
As I pondered this for a while, my discomfort continued to grow. Tolerance. It’s a good thing, right? Here’s how dictionary.com defines tolerance:
1. a fair, objective, and permissive attitude toward those whose opinions, practices, race, religion, nationality, etc., differ from one’s own; freedom from bigotry.
2. a fair, objective, and permissive attitude toward opinions and practices that differ from one’s own.
3. interest in and concern for ideas, opinions, practices, etc., foreign to one’s own; a liberal, undogmatic viewpoint.
I sat with that for a bit and let it percolate, if you will. Fair. That’s good. Objective. I’m okay with that. Permissive. Hmm. We’ve entered into queasy territory here. Maybe that’s where God has trouble, too. Being permissive feels like letting someone get away with something–and not something good. Perhaps that’s how I’m to make the link to this portion of history for God’s people. As uncomfortable as it makes me, I have to come to the place where I understand that there are things that God doesn’t permit, that He just won’t tolerate. I have to step out of my “politically correct” bubble that doesn’t just make allowances for differences, but obliterates any distinctions between right and wrong. Doing that means that I have to try to understand the heart and mind of God, consider His perspective. Tall task.
Part of the challenge in this is that I have grown up in a culture that has advocated for tolerance and acceptance. After all, I want to be accepted so I should be accepting. I was trained to believe that there is too much rigidity in thinking that is only “black and white”. Ecologically we may be going green, but spiritually we’ve been heading towards many shades of gray for a very long time. Menninger’s message from a few decades past only rings truer today: What ever became of sin?”
What I wish I could come away with from all this pondering is a clearer understanding of how live less tolerantly (in the negative sense) while remaining relevant to a world that refuses to be any other way. I’m not there yet. I did however see the wisdom in a quote that may offer a little guidance at this point:
“In essentials unity. In non-essentials liberty. In all things charity.” (Rupertus Meldenius)