Part 17: Love is More Than Tolerance
By Dr. Robert Stackpole, STD (May 27, 2016)
The following is the seventeenth in a series on Homosexuality and God's Merciful Love. You can follow the entire series here.
If you have been following the discussion in articles 15 and 16 of this series, then you will not be surprised by the title of this week's installment. The fact is that authentic love involves a lot more than the mere mutual "toleration" — and it's a lot more difficult. That is why we need to lean on the grace of God every step of the way, if we are really to learn how to love God, and our neighbors as ourselves.
Of course, a degree of toleration all around is essential to harmonious family and social life (and we will have more to say about that later in this series). But real love is not just an exercise in "live and let live." On the contrary, it often calls us to "live and help live" — precisely because we all need help! That is why St. Thomas Aquinas defined authentic merciful love as "the compassion in our hearts for another person's misery, a compassion that drives us to do what we can to help them" (ST II-II.30.1).
The merciful love of God too, according to Holy Scripture, is not some bland, milk-toast patience with human sin, but a transforming fire. Our heavenly Father just will not settle for anything less than to make out of us the best version of ourselves that we can be: "For he is like a refiner's fire, and he shall purify the sons of Levi, that they may offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness" (Mal 3:2-3, KJV).
And the love of the merciful Heart of Jesus for us is just the same. Christ loves us all, unconditionally, just as we are, in the midst of all our sins and brokenness — but he loves us too much to leave us that way. Kevin DeYoung writes about this in a section of his book on homosexuality that bears the striking subtitle "Jesus the Intolerant":
[W]e cannot settle for a culturally imported understanding of love. The steadfast love of God must not be confused with a blanket affirmation or an inspirational pep talk. No halfway responsible parent would ever think that loving her child means affirming his every desire and finding ways to fulfill whatever wishes he deems are important. Parents generally know better what their kids really need, just as God always knows how we ought to live and who we ought to be (What Does the Bible Really Teach About Homosexuality?, pp. 122-123).
As an example of the loving "intolerance" of Jesus, DeYoung points to an often overlooked passage from the book of Revelation, chapter 2:
Of the seven cities in Revelation, Thyatira is the least well known. And yet ... there was a lot going on at this church — some bad, some good.
Let's start with the good. In verse 19 Jesus says, "I know your works, your love and faith and service and patient endurance." ...
And the bad part? "But I have this against you, that you tolerate that woman Jezebel" (v.20). Thyatira's love could be undiscerning and blindly affirming. The church [in that area] tolerated false teaching and immoral behavior, two things God is fiercely intolerant of. Jesus says, "You're loving in many ways, but your tolerance is not love. It's unfaithfulness" (p. 123).
In short, whatever compromises with moral truth that you and I are tolerating right now, both in ourselves and others, let's at least be clear that this is not an expression of real "love" on our part. And our Savior, Jesus Christ, is actually intolerant of such compromises. He just loves us too much to sit idly by and watch falsehood and sin disfigure or destroy our lives.
C.S. Lewis says it much better than I can, so I will quote at length here some of the most powerful passages of his great book Mere Christianity (from Book IV, chapters 8 and 9):
Christ says "Give me All. I don't want so much of your time and so much of your money and so much of your work: I want You. I have not come to torment your natural self but to kill it. No half-measures are any good. I don't want to cut off a branch here and a branch there, I want to have the whole tree down. I don't want to drill the tooth, or crown it, or stop it, but to have it out. Hand over the whole natural self, all the desires which you think innocent as well as the ones you think wicked — the whole outfit. I will give you a new self instead. In fact, I will give you Myself: my own will shall become yours ...
The terrible thing, the almost impossible thing, is to hand over your whole self — all your wishes and precautions — to Christ. But it is far easier than what we are all trying to do instead. For what we are trying to do is to remain what we call "ourselves," to keep personal happiness as our great aim in life, and yet at the same time to be "good." We are all trying to let our mind and heart go their own way — centred on money or pleasure or ambition — and hoping, in spite of this, to behave honestly and chastely and humbly. And that is exactly what Christ warned us you could not do. ...
When He said, "Be perfect," He meant it. He meant that we must go in for the full treatment. It is hard; but the sort of compromise we are all hankering after is harder — in fact, it is impossible. It may be hard for an egg to turn into a bird: it would be a jolly sight harder for it to learn to fly while remaining an egg. We are like eggs at present. And you cannot go on indefinitely being just an ordinary, decent egg. We must be hatched or go bad....
I find a good many people have been bothered by what I said in the last chapter about our Lord's words, "Be ye perfect." Some people seem to think that means "Unless you are perfect, I will not help you;" and as we cannot be perfect, then, if He means that, our position is hopeless. But I do not think He did mean that. I think He meant, "The only help I will give is help to become perfect. You may want something less: but I will give you nothing less."...
This is why He warned people to "count the cost" before becoming Christians. "Make no mistake," He says, "if you let Me, I will make you perfect. The moment you put yourself in My hands, that is what you are in for. Nothing less, or other, than that. You have free will, and you can push Me away. But if you do not push Me away, understand that I am going to see this job through. Whatever suffering it may cost you in your earthly life, whatever inconceivable purification it may cost you after death, whatever it costs Me, I will never rest, nor let you rest, until you are literally perfect — until my father can say without reservation that he is well pleased with you, as He said He was well pleased with Me. This I can and will do. But I will not do anything less."
And yet — this is the other and equally important side of it — this Helper who will, in the long run, be satisfied with nothing less than absolute perfection, will also be delighted with the first, feeble, stumbling effort you make tomorrow to do the simplest duty. ... Every father is pleased at the baby's first attempt to walk: no father would be satisfied with anything less than a firm, free, manly walk in a grown-up son.
In short, "speaking the truth in love" (Eph 4:15) to our LGBT brothers and sisters is usually what we are called to do, but it is often very hard, and very hard for them to hear. For it is a call to the way of the cross and to holiness, rather than to the kind of life that all of us, gay or straight, seem to want instead: a life of compromise, "feel-good," and "coping" strategies. Indeed, the real "home truths" each of us needs to hear are often hard to bear at first. How rare that someone struggling with serious sin and brokenness in their lives welcomes right away the voice of the Holy Spirit! Where is the person — for example, the person addicted to internet porn, or abusive to his spouse, or who cheats on his taxes, or who has had an abortion, or who cannot forgive her parents, or who is a malicious gossip, or who sleeps around, or who exploits his employees— where is the person who finds it easy at first to be convicted by the Holy Spirit, even when the promise of divine forgiveness and grace offered at the same time?
Some people take it upon themselves to "speak the truth" to homosexuals, but not "in love." In his book, Peter Fitch mentions the high suicide rates among homosexual youths from conservative religious backgrounds and communities, and this shows me that the churches are still doing a poor job of providing pastoral care for young people with this affliction. On the other hand, some people, out of a well-intentioned but misinformed compassion, try to speak words of "love" to our homosexual brothers and sisters divorced from "truth" — as Peter Fitch and other gay-affirming liberal Protestants and liberal Catholics do. But this helps those with same-sex attraction find neither healing nor holiness. As Christians, we are surely called to speak the whole truth to one another in the fullness of love. Real love would never do anything less.
Next Time: What to Do When Someone You Love "Comes Out"?
You can follow the entire series here.
Robert Stackpole, STD, is director of the John Paul II Institute of Divine Mercy, an apostolate of the Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception.