Tolerance vs. Compassion

     These are turbulent times we live in, folks. The social and political climate of the world is changing rapidly. As society becomes more progressive, we are encouraged to be more tolerant. Now, don’t get me wrong, I have no problem with that ideal, and I genuinely believe people have the best of intentions with this message. The problem is that I’m afraid those of us in the Body of Messiah have taken the positive aspects of tolerance and spun it to our destruction. So, I have a couple of questions. If you truly love someone, do you allow them to behave in a way or put themselves in a situation that would ultimately harm them? Or, would you correct them out of love and concern for their well-being and prosperity? What I’m trying to say is that there is a HUGE difference between tolerance and compassion. Now, I do want to be crystal clear, so let me tell you what this is not. The word “tolerance” is pretty loaded, but I’m not implying that we should weaponize Scripture to be hateful in any way toward people who do not believe in God or the Bible, or maybe even more importantly, toward people who don’t walk exactly as we walk. See, that’s the irony, tolerance can easily become a vehicle for hatefulness. I’m speaking specifically to and for people who believe in the God of Israel, and for community, for people living life together. For people who know each other well and want what’s best for each other.

     Now that that’s out of the way, let’s examine these terms more closely. I like the idea of the “law of first mention,” therefore, I’ll be looking at the Hebrew here. Tolerance refers to the ability or willingness to accept something, in particular the existence of opinions or behavior that one does not necessarily agree with. The Hebrew word is “sovlanut” (סוֹבלָנוּת/sohv-lah-noot), and is not found in Scripture, not even once. That in and of itself should tell us something. On the other hand, to be compassionate means to have concern, sympathy, mercy, or even pity for the suffering and misfortune of others. There are two Hebrew words most commonly used for compassion: “chamal” (חָמַל/khaw-mal/H2550) and “racham” (רָחַם/raw-kham/H7355). See Exodus 2:6 for the former, Deuteronomy 13:17 for the latter. Although these two words, tolerance and compassion, are often used interchangeably, can you see the difference?

     Because of Western society’s “leap forward,” an inaccurate profile of Yeshua has taken shape. Today, the Messiah is portrayed as a mild and meek martyr who would never do anything to upset anyone under any circumstances, no matter what, even if He disagreed with them. His words, actions, and teachings have been misconstrued in order to be more palatable. The truth is that Yeshua was and is not tolerant. “Huh? Did he really just say that?” Yes, I did, He was not tolerant. He was, however, compassionate. Please, bear with me, and let me explain. Opposed to the traits I already mentioned, Yeshua was not afraid to “step on toes” and make others uncomfortable to teach a lesson. He himself said, “I and the Father are one,” so is it so hard to believe that Yeshua showed His love like that of a father, or more specifically, the Father? When I mess up, my dad is often the first to correct me and put me back on track, even if it requires a bit of a “kick to the rear end,” so to speak. My father does this because he wants what is best for me, he wants me to succeed. It’s done out of compassion and love. Yeshua taught in the same way. There are plenty of examples throughout the scriptures that we could look to, but I want to use one in particular that you may even know by heart. However, there’s an important verse in this passage that is often completely ignored. Please read John 8:1-11. We love to use this passage for verse 7’s sake. We love to use it to justify ourselves and perhaps the behavior of others. Context is key here, though. As incredible as that verse is, it’s just a part of an amazing lesson the Master is teaching, not the whole lesson. This one passage, amazingly, shows Yeshua being compassionate for the woman (verse 7, verses 10-11), and intolerant of her sinfulness. He doesn’t command her to “Just believe in me and love me so that you can continue to live life your way.” No! He commands her to “…go and sin no more…” That might sound kind of harsh, impossible even, depending on how you understand sin. But, do you want to talk about the wisdom, grace, and mercy of Messiah? Here’s what he effectively said: “Hey, so now that you’re ok, take this experience and learn from it to avoid another mess like this.” If that is not compassion, I don’t know what is. He wants better for her, He loves her, and He wants her to align herself with the Word and with the Father. Period. So then, to truly love someone is to not be tolerant of their destructive behavior. We need to start to understand that correcting one another and holding one another accountable with love and tact is not “judgement” or “casting stones.” I know that I’m not always so great at this thing called “life,” and not if, but when I mess up please, help me out, help me get right. I would be more offended if you didn’t, because I’ll be held accountable at some point, and I’ll be worse off by then. In fact, I would argue that tolerance and compassion cannot coexist when it comes to building relationships for the Kingdom. We can’t grow if we’re not corrected. I’ve brought up the Kingdom a couple of times now and this passage is the perfect example of our walk and our responsibility when we come to Messiah and enter the Kingdom. We were all once “adulterous,” deserving of the consequences of our actions, but Yeshua stood in the gap and taught us how to live life correctly, and gave Himself up to save us from said consequences. Once we come into the Kingdom through Him, it becomes our duty to do our best to live as He lived, to do our best to “go and sin no more,” not to be saved, but because He saved us. We need each other for that. The secular ideal of tolerance isn’t completely off. It’s just not complete. If you make a minor change in the Hebrew word for tolerance you get “savlanut,” (סַבְלָנוּת/sahv-lah-noot) a word closely related, meaning “patience.” Its root is “saval” (סָבַל/saw-vahl), meaning to bear (a burden). We have to be patient with one another, help each other with the burdens we each bear, and encourage change in each other’s lives. Patience combined with compassion trumps tolerance any day. You know, there’s a certain commandment in the Torah that Yeshua thought was pretty important, that is to “love your neighbor as yourself.” With this in mind, ask yourself: When it comes to tolerance and compassion, which requires more understanding and maturity? Which would you want for yourself and in turn for your neighbor?

     I continue to hope and pray for unity in the Kingdom, so that we can benefit one another and grow in Messiah. I hope that you understand my heart here, and that this gives you a new point of view that will benefit you, your walk, and your relationships. Feel free to reach out to me so that we can grow together! Shalom