The intolerance of God

The intolerance of God

One of the greatest cultural crimes you can commit today is to be intolerant. We must be accepting of everyone’s beliefs, whatever they might be. Now to most of us who have grown up in this world that seems perfectly reasonable and rational. We’re all free to make our own decisions about things, and we should respect other peoples’ decisions when they differ from ours. What’s the problem here?

The problem is that what most people mean by ‘tolerance’ is not the traditional definition of the word. Traditionally, ‘tolerance’ meant accepting that others have different views from you. For example, Voltaire famously said that “I disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it”. Most Christians would agree with that. The modern idea of ‘tolerance’ is that we must not only accept different views from our own, but we must celebrate them and accept that all viewpoints are equal and valid. And there we run into problems.

Think about this with regard to religion. Many think that religion is kind of like a mountain. Different religions are reaching up to the divine in different ways, like different paths leading to the top of the same mountain. If you believe that, it makes no difference which religion you choose. They all are ultimately of equal value.

With that in mind, look at the situation in 2 Kings 1. King Ahaziah was the son of King Ahab and Queen Jezebel. He had grown up worshipping Baal and probably knew very little about the God of Israel. 1 Kings 22:53 describes a man who was committed to his god Baal and who served this god his whole life. So when he was injured in 2 Kings 1:2, he naturally reached out to his god. He sent messengers to a neighbouring city-state asking his god, Baal-zebub, whether he would recover. He was being consistent to the god of his culture and youth and freely choosing which god to consult.

In response, God sent Elijah the prophet to tell him in no uncertain terms that seeking the will of Baal-zebub was a most foolish thing. Each time Ahaziah’s god is mentioned, the narrator adds “the god of Ekron”. Ahaziah’s god is not the true God but a foreign god. And Israel has a true God whom Ahaziah has rejected.

That’s not tolerant, is it? God tells a man on his sickbed, who freely chose a god to consult, that he made the wrong choice. That was offensive back then and more so now.

God has never had time for rivals. It is the first commandment, to have no other gods before the LORD. He describes himself as a jealous God. Anyone living in Israel who was found serving a foreign god would be put to death.

That’s not just in the Old Testament, by the way. We find Jesus saying that no-one comes to the Father except through Him. The disciples admit that Jesus is the only one who has the words of eternal life. There is one God; the others are no gods at all.

This is a problem for many people, but it is not something we can be flexible on. There is only one way to be saved. Religion is not like a mountain after all. It more like a burning building. There is only one door that leads to safety and freedom. You can, of course, freely choose whatever option you like. You can go to another floor of the burning building, sit down and meditate, or run to the opposite corner. But those free choices lead to disaster.

Why is it this way? It is because there really is a God and He gets to say how to connect with Him. We don’t choose like we might choose different paths up a mountain. God shows us the way in his Word. There is one way, and we can go that way or choose another way. But other ways don’t lead to the same place.

That idea must give motivation to our evangelism. Sincere followers of other religions might have great faith but in the wrong thing. Those who think any talk of God is foolish and misguided are themselves mistaken. We want to be tolerant in the classical sense; we don’t want to oppress or persecute people because they might think differently. But we want to be firm on the fact that all beliefs are not the same. Everyone needs to hear about Jesus. Everyone needs to know the way to escape the fire to security and freedom.

God does not tolerate rivals. This is an offensive message, but a true one. We must be clear that the gospel is not one possible road but the only road that works.