Is God Intolerant?

by Sean McDowell

We all know that God has a serious problem with sin, but why can’t he be less demanding and more understanding of our imperfections? We may think something like Why can’t God just be more forgiving and overlook our weaknesses and failures? If he is truly loving he should be more tolerant of our shortcomings, right?

The reality is that God is merciful, but that isn’t quite the same as being tolerant. First, many people fail to understand the seriousness of sin and the great cost to God personally to forgive us our sins. When we see the combination of his holiness and justice we gain a greater understanding of his mercy. And that will go a long way to answering why he can’t tolerate sin and yet can be merciful at the same time.

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There is a reason God can’t stand sin. You see, his core nature is holy and pure. There is no impurity of motive or action with him, for he is perfect and without sin. (See Deuteronomy 32:4; Isaiah 54:5; and Revelation 4:8.) So a holy God cannot be in relationship with sin in any manner. The Bible says of him, “Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; you cannot tolerate wrong” (Habakkuk 1:13 niv). He is so holy that he “cannot allow sin in any form” (Habakkuk 1:13). To do so would violate the very essence of who he is.

The Separation

So our sin naturally separates us from God. And a relational separation from him causes spiritual death. The “wages of sin,” the Bible says, “is death” (Romans 6:23). It is this death or separation from God that preserves his holiness.

And yet because he is a God of love, the Bible declares of him that “you…delight to show mercy” (Micah 7:18 niv). King David said that his “mercy endures forever” (Psalm 107:1 nkjv). In the New Testament it says, “God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much” (Ephesians 2:4). But even with God being merciful toward us, there is the problem we mentioned—the problem with sin. God can’t have any relationship with sin, and we as humans have a condition called sin. So what is he to do?

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