The Cross of Christ: The Symbol of a Tolerant God (my response to The Gospel Coalition)

The Cross of Christ: The Symbol of a Tolerant God (my response to The Gospel Coalition) October 16, 2013

Are Christians called to be intolerant of other viewpoints and lifestyles? Is God himself an intolerant God?

The Gospel Coalition says yes, on both counts.

Last week, the Gospel Coalition encouraged readers to reject the concept of being “tolerant” of others opting instead for the emulation of God’s supposed “intolerance”. The piece, which you can read in full here, claims in part:

“On the surface it (tolerance) seems to be a positive virtue, one that exemplifies the life of the Christian. But have you ever considered that tolerance is never encouraged in the Bible? The fruit of the Spirit includes love and kindness, but missing from the list is tolerance. In fact, Christians aren’t called to tolerance, because we serve an intolerant God.”

The piece goes on to list various Old Testament “examples” to demonstrate God’s intolerance, such as Sodom and Gomorrah, the Flood, and other violent stories which are notoriously misunderstood in relation to God’s character. The writer culminates with the example of the cross, citing the cross as the central example that God is, in fact, an intolerant God:

“Take a fresh look at the terrifying and uncomfortable reality of the cross. Here is an innocent man—whipped, beaten, nailed to a tree, bearing the sins of the world. For you. For me. Is this the picture of a tolerant God who ignores evil? No, this is a gruesome picture of divine wrath and judgment. The story makes no sense if God is a tolerant God.”

This post, and all posts like it, pains me to my core. There are a lot of things we need in this world, but the one thing we don’t need is new and improved portraits of an angry, violent, intolerant God. I’ve never fully grasped why folks like the Gospel Coalition are addicted to a portrait of God that paints him to look more like a drunken, angry x-boyfriend than who he really is.

Ironically, the cross isn’t about God’s intolerance, but his extreme tolerance. It’s not about his wrath; it’s about ours.

The dual nature of Christ meant that he was fully human and fully divine. Being fully human, he owed God a perfect life– however, living a perfect life also meant that Jesus was not under the curse of death– he didn’t owe God his death. The fact that he owed no death, but died anyway, is what reversed the curse of Adam that started way back at the beginning.

It didn’t have to be a crucifixion. The death itself, did not need to be an extremely violent, gruesome death.

We did that part.

In God’s loving tolerance, he allowed us to make choices that took creation in a direction that was way, way wrong. In God’s loving tolerance, he didn’t make humanity pay the price for those choices– instead, he came in human flesh to show us a better way to live– the only way to live, if we actually want to experience “life” as it can be, both now and later.

Yet, in our own intolerance we weren’t able to tolerate the presence of God-with-us. Instead of tolerating a counter-cultural teacher and actually embracing him, and his teachings, for everything they were (and are), we brutally murdered him in perhaps the most horrid way we’ve ever carried out executions. 2,000 years later, we still love to crucify those who preach the radical message of “blessed are the poor” and “put away your swords”.

When we encounter the cross we see that we were the ones who behaved intolerantly– not God. When we look at the bloody Jesus on the cross, we see not a wrath that God inflicts, but the wrath that we too often carry out against others.

The cross was not about God’s intolerance; God had been tolerant all along. So tolerant, in fact, that he watched from heaven as we beat, whipped, spat upon, and crucified his son. It doesn’t get more tolerant than that.

Ironically, in contrast to the take of the Gospel Coalition, the cross of Christ is the ultimate testimony that God is an incredibly loving, patient, and tolerant God.

So tolerant, that he allowed us to go our own way and damage humanity’s relationship with him, our relationship to others, and our relationship to creation. So tolerant, that instead of standing against us, he sent generations of prophets to invite us into a better way of living by doing justice and loving mercy.

So tolerant, that he himself took on flesh and pitched his tent among us– declaring that he didn’t come to judge or condemn us, but to save us.

So tolerant, that even after we stripped him naked, tore the flesh from his bones, and nailed him to a tree, he said:

“Forgive them.”

Be not confused: the cross of Christ bears witness to a tolerant God. It bears witness to a tolerant God who puts up with our nonsense, who loves us enough to invite us into a better way of living, and even allows you (and me) to kill him in the process.

The cross of Christ is a dual picture of love and wrath, but not in the way we’ve been taught– it’s a picture of God’s unfailing tolerance and love being met with the wrath of our own selves.


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