“Co-exist.” What does that mean and who really means it? We’ve all seen the clever bumper sticker that uses symbols to convey a message of “tolerance.” In the original, uncomplicated version, originator Piotr Mlodozenis uses commonplace symbols for Islam, Judaism and Christianity to nudge the notion that we can all get along, following the rhythm of “Why Can’t We Be Friends,” the 1974 hit by, get this, the group War. Hah!
According to Webster, tolerance means sympathy or indulgence for beliefs or practices differing from or conflicting with one’s own. I get the principle, don’t you? Admittedly, even in America there doesn’t appear to be an abundance of tolerance for Christianity or for Christians as we bungle our way along the pathway of learning to live like Jesus. What I don’t get is why followers of Jesus get riled up and truly angry over how, apart from outright sin, other Christians practice their faith and why they get heated and sometimes hateful towards people of other faiths. If anyone should be offended or angry, I think God earns that right and He is still working patiently to make Himself known to those who haven’t received Him.
Let’s consider getting mad at Satan instead. After all, “Satan, who is the god of this world, has blinded the minds of those who don’t believe. They are unable to see the glorious light of the Good News. They don’t understand this message about the glory of Christ, who is the exact likeness of God.” (2 Cor. 4:4 NLT) Does it make sense to hate people who are presently blinded by the powerful influence of our enemy, the devil? All through scripture God would have us distinguish ourselves as “His” by thinking and behaving counter-culturally. In Romans 12:8(NASB) He tells us “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.”
I can understand a person new to our faith being a bit “white-knuckled” in their grip of these new beliefs and perhaps a bit defensive, but it shouldn’t lead to a life of being threatened or angry because others are rejecting this faith. We must be more secure in our standing with God than that, and without pride or arrogance view with compassion the reality that some people will indeed be lost for eternity as a result of their object of worship. We are instructed to “Never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” (Rom. 12:19) God has promised to settle His accounts according to His timing but in the meanwhile is in a relentless pursuit of those far from Him, and we are called to join God in this rescue effort.
Our Pastor’s message last week gave excellent direction for how we are to conduct ourselves amidst those who do not practice this elusive “tolerance” and who have hurt, embarrassed, abused, offended, cheated or otherwise “done us wrong.” We probably have been conditioned somewhat to want “justice” now, perhaps even revenge. How easy is it for me to love my neighbor and hate my enemies, those who have hurt me? That’s pure human nature. As believers we have a new nature, and Jesus commands us to supernaturally bring that out and ” love (agapeo) your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.” That “agape love” is an astronomically tall order, a superhuman order, possible only through Christ in us. It is the active love God’s people are to have for God, each other, and yes, even towards our enemies. Isn’t that revolutionary? Can you imagine visualizing your personal world peacefully co-existing in that way? Think About It.