Our society, as evidenced by the current political climate, is becoming more polarized and intolerant of opposing points of view, but I don’t think politics is driving the intolerance. I agree with Clive Cook of Bloomberg.com who wrote last year that it’s the other way around – our intolerance of each other is what is driving our politics. He and other writers have called for Americans to learn how to be civil once again, to learn how to be tolerant of each other, but I don’t think tolerance goes far enough. We need to practice the art of grace.
As a pastor, I talk about God’s grace a lot. Defined by many as unmerited favor, I can reassure my congregation that God’s grace is the result of his love. We can’t earn it, just accept it. There’s a nickel word for that. It’s “prevenient.” That means it comes first even before we’re aware of it.
Now imagine how reassured my congregation would feel if I told them that God just tolerated them, that his grace depended on our actions. That would lead to a pretty tenuous life as you would always wonder if your latest escapade would be the last straw. It reminds me of the joke about Bill, who, in one day, wrecked his car, broke up with his girlfriend and got hit by lightning. Distraught, he looked up in to the heavens and yelled, “God, why me?” A voice came booming back, “I don’t know, Bill. There’s just something about you that ticks me off.” Tolerance has limits – grace does not.
To me, there is a sense of humility that comes with sharing the grace I receive, and humility is also a characteristic that is in short supply these days. Oswald Chambers once said there is always one more thing you don’t know about a person’s situation so don’t be so quick to criticize others, and that is good advice. If God knows everything about me and still extends his grace, how can I do any less for those around me?
I have to admit, this is a lot easier to say than to do. I have a tendency to fall into the same tunnel vision as others. I can’t help but cringe when I see a Trump for President sign, but lately I have tried to set aside the 24-hour news stereotypes and to reason as to why this person chose to post that sign. Sure, I could just tolerate it, but that implies an uncrossable divide between me and that person. I am assuming that I am right and they are wrong, and that may not be the case.
What if that person is a longtime friend or acquaintance or even a neighbor? There’s a lot more going on here than I know, so grace dictates that I listen and try to understand, and I hope they would do the same for me. We may agree to disagree, but no sign is worth the loss of a good friend or neighbor.
When you think about it, like it or not, we are all in the same boat. We have to practice grace and work together or the current polarization has the potential to run us aground or even sink us.
Practicing grace leads to better understanding. For example, police departments across the country are reaching out to their communities and their communities are reaching back to better understand each other and end the violence. Tolerance alone would not be enough.
In his article about the current political climate, Cook writes, “Getting along doesn’t require milquetoast moderation, flaccid centrism or ‘moving beyond left and right.’ However, it does require some willingness to compromise, some curiosity about what might be valuable in the otherside’s point of view, and some minimal attention to the civic virtues of tolerance and restraint.”
These are wise words, but I believe we have to take it one step further. We have to practice the art of grace. Anything short of that will only reinforce the divide.