A Parable About Tolerance

Back when I moved out into the country. I was blessed to find a lot more life there than I was used to–plants, animals and so forth. It really helped me to appreciate more of God’s creation. So early on, I chose to do something I would never have considered before: When I found a spider in my bathroom, I decided to let it stay.

After all, what gave me the right to kill one of these amazing creatures? Most of them can’t bite humans, and most of the ones that do aren’t really dangerous. Besides, spiders eat all kinds of other insects, so it would be great having one in the bathroom cleaning up pests. Surely, tolerating the spider and living in harmony with nature would be the high road. Think of what we could learn.

Well, one thing I learned is that spiders are messier than I would have expected. Their detritus accumulates rather quickly under their homes. Naturally spiders don’t clean up after themselves, and there’s no soil in my bathroom for it to fertilize with its leavings.

I also learned that spiders reproduce. Yes, I already knew that, but I didn’t know that. Spaying or neutering your spider isn’t exactly practical, and it doesn’t take all that long for the spider in your bathroom to become the spiders in the your bathroom, family room, and so forth. It goes on from there. In the end, the spider proved to be a bigger pest than whatever it had been eating.

Which leads me to the other things I learned:  First, nature is great, but homes are not nature and we shouldn’t treat them as such. Homes are precisely where we tell nature, “this far, and no further.” And we are right to do so, for that is God’s design from the beginning when He gave man dominion over creation. He placed man in the Garden, a place where life is told where it may live and thrive–and where it may not. Where we have dominion, it is our right and responsibility to judge what we do and do not tolerate. Sometimes we judge wisely, sometimes we judge foolishly, but we always judge. Accordingly, it behooves us to learn to judge well.

Second, tolerance is never a static affair. Spiders are going to do what spiders are going to do no matter what allowances you make for them. They aren’t housebroken. Ultimately, you aren’t just choosing to tolerate a spider, you’re choosing to tolerate many spiders along with the messes they all make. “What’s the harm?” isn’t a question you should only be asking rhetorically. And if you find out the hard way, then you still have the responsibility to clean up the mess in your home.

So I bear no ill-will towards my spiders. I’m quite happy to have them outside where they belong. But just as I forcibly instruct my grass how high is allowed to grow, I forcibly instruct my spiders where they get to live–and it’s not in my home. “Good fences make good neighbors” is also true between man and nature.

But there’s a broader principle at work here when it comes to the tolerance of an evil we would rather suppress:  Our tolerance will not change the nature of whatever it is we tolerate.

For example, the sin we tolerate will never stop being sinful. Neither will it ever stop doing the things that sin naturally does: imprison us, cause chaos & corruption, erode creation, lead people away from God, etc. The excessive diversity you tolerate will never become unity, and it will never stop doing what diversity does: accumulating more of itself, destroying common ground, and destabilizing a nation. Likewise, the tyranny you tolerate will always demand further acts of submission; it will never stop trying to gain greater power and control over you for its own benefit.

This doesn’t mean we should never tolerate anything. After all, even our Lord tolerates tares for the sake of his wheat and sinners for the sake of redeeming them. There is no perfection for us in this fallen world. What it does mean is that we should only tolerate things when our options for suppressing them would either cause even greater harm or prevent a greater good. It also means that scorn and contempt for an evil we have to tolerate should never be discarded.

Tyrants should receive no honor. Welcome should not be universal. Sinners should feel ashamed over their sin. Anyone who thinks otherwise is doing tolerance wrong.

About Matt

Software engineer by trade; lay theologian by nature; Lutheran by grace.
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