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How Tolerant Is God?

How Tolerant Is God?

The Bible’s Viewpoint

How Tolerant Is God?


THROUGHOUT history God has tolerated much badness and outright wickedness. More than 3,000 years ago, Job lamented: “Why is it that the wicked themselves keep living, have grown old, also have become superior in wealth? Their offspring are firmly established with them in their sight, and their descendants before their eyes. Their houses are peace itself, free from dread, and the rod of God is not upon them.” (Job 21:7-9) Other lovers of justice, such as the prophet Jeremiah, have also manifested concern over God’s seeming tolerance of bad people.—Jeremiah 12:1, 2.

What do you think? Are you puzzled by God’s permission of wickedness? Do you feel at times that God should hurry up and destroy all wicked people right away? Consider what the Bible says about the limits of God’s tolerance and the reasons for it.

Why Is God Tolerant?

First, we must ask: Why does God, who has the highest standards of righteousness, tolerate badness at all? (Deuteronomy 32:4; Habakkuk 1:13) Does this mean he condones evil? Not at all! Consider the following illustration: Imagine that there is a surgeon who violates basic principles of hygiene and who also inflicts great pain on his patients. If he worked in a hospital, would he not be removed swiftly? But there are some circumstances where extraordinary tolerance might be required. In an extreme emergency, perhaps on a battlefield, for example, might it not be necessary to tolerate surgeons’ working in primitive and dangerous conditions, perhaps even using what would normally be considered inferior equipment and surgical instruments?

In a similar way, today God is patiently tolerating many things that he finds totally unacceptable. Although he hates wickedness, he is temporarily allowing it to continue. There are good reasons for his doing so. For one thing, this allows time for the crucial issues raised by Satan’s rebellion in the garden of Eden to be settled once and for all time. These are issues that center around the rightness and rightfulness of God’s way of ruling. Also, his patient endurance of wrong provides time and opportunity for those involved in badness to change.

A Merciful, Patient God

Our original parents, Adam and Eve, joined Satan’s rebellion against God. God could legitimately have destroyed them then and there. Instead, he showed himself to be merciful and patient, lovingly allowing them to have children. But these children, and the whole human family descended from them, were born in a sinful state.—Romans 5:12; 8:20-22.

God purposed to rescue man from his woeful condition. (Genesis 3:15) In the meantime, though, because he understands how imperfection inherited from Adam affects us, he shows tremendous patience and mercy. (Psalm 51:5; 103:13) He is “abundant in loving-kindness” and is ready and willing to “forgive in a large way.”—Psalm 86:5, 15; Isaiah 55:6, 7.

Limits to God’s Tolerance

However, it would be unloving and unreasonable for God to allow wrongdoing to continue forever. No loving father would endlessly tolerate badness from one of his children who continued deliberately to inflict grievous pain on other family members. God’s patience in the face of sin, therefore, will always be balanced by other qualities such as love, wisdom, and justice. (Exodus 34:6, 7) Once the purpose behind his long-suffering is complete, his tolerance of evil will end.—Romans 9:22.

The apostle Paul clearly indicated this. “In the past generations,” he said on one occasion, “[God] permitted all the nations to go on in their ways.” (Acts 14:16) On another occasion Paul spoke of how “God has overlooked the times of such ignorance” on the part of people who have disobeyed his laws and principles. “Now,” Paul continued, “[God] is telling mankind that they should all everywhere repent.” Why? “Because he has set a day in which he purposes to judge the inhabited earth in righteousness.”—Acts 17:30, 31.

Benefit Now From God’s Tolerance

Certainly, then, no one should assume that he can ignore God’s laws and then casually ask for God’s forgiveness when he wants to escape the consequences of his actions. (Joshua 24:19) Many in ancient Israel thought that they could do that. They would not change. They missed the purpose of God’s tolerance and patience. God did not forever tolerate their badness.—Isaiah 1:16-20.

The Bible shows that to avoid God’s final judgment, a person must “repent”—that is, contritely acknowledge his imperfect, sinful state before God and then genuinely turn away from bad. (Acts 3:19-21) Then, on the basis of Christ’s ransom sacrifice, Jehovah God will grant forgiveness. (Acts 2:38; Ephesians 1:6, 7) In his due time, God will undo all the grievous effects of Adamic sin. There will be “a new heaven and a new earth” where he will no longer tolerate “the presence . . . of things that cry out to be destroyed.” (Revelation 21:1-5; Romans 9:22, Phillips) What a wonderful result from God’s extraordinary, but not limitless, tolerance!

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God allowed Adam and Eve to have offspring