What Should I Tolerate?

This is such a tough principle to navigate! How much should we “stand our ground”, and how much should we simply let people be the people they are, even if it steps on our toes?

I think this is one of the greatest philosophical questions we face as humans, and how we face it says a great deal about what kind of people we are. (And I don’t think I understand it all myself—just that it’s of huge importance.)

Should standing my ground go so far as to exact vengeance on those who violate/insult/inconvenience/wrong me? If not, then just how much should I resist? I should probably not be a “door mat”, most would agree, but shall I make it my business to utterly conquer and vanquish every mindless jerk who treats me poorly, humiliating him and putting him in his place?

Is this not really the ultimate question of what kind of person Jack is going to be?

I’m more prone (now in my life, at least) to attack more fiercely in defense of somebody else than of myself. And surely, on the other hand, it’s true that some people just had it comin’! But I think that managing this well is really tough business, and it really gives me pause where I am right now in my life.

This all began to change for me when I met some people who are real champions at taking consistent (or one-time) abuse without becoming vengeful, and their examples have totally shattered my illusions that I had a mature view of this question. This last year has amounted to a huge “Stop the Presses!” moment for me regarding this very thing, and I am not nearly now so sure as I was before that I’m seeing it straight.

Paul’s line, “why not rather be wronged?” surely echoes, as does Jesus’ “turn the other cheek”—and at the same time, there echo just as rightfully the lines “show him his fault” and even “flog a mocker”. And perhaps in (honestly?) wrestling with all this, I’m getting my head around the very dilemma that God himself has in dealing with this beautiful/ugly human race he created—that at once needs such accountability and such grace. It’s the dilemma that I suspect would lead to God saying things like:

“All day long I have held out my hands to an obstinate people, who walk in ways not good,…a people who continually provoke me to my very face,…”

~God. Isaiah 65:2-3. NIV

And Jesus saying things like:

“How long shall I put up with you?”

~Jesus. mark 9:19b NIV

And if all this was enough to vex God and Jesus, then how much more should Jack be vexed when he is himself front-and-center among the very humans whose behaviors tend to vex God and Jesus?

I will never forget an unusual and shocking turn of a phrase uttered once by an old acquaintance, Raphael Andrades. Speaking in a church devotional one night, he told his audience something like, “You need to have mercy on God.”


That was a real head-scratcher. It threw us for a loop. In cognitive science terms, it might be called a “change of schema”; it was a thought that lay outside the conventional thinking that it is God who has mercy on us! And his point, as I recall it, was simply that we are so often such jerks to God that we might well consider giving him a break from time to time, and behaving better! And that has stuck with me to this day—though when I consider it, I am often convicted that I have not considered it either well or often enough!

But due consideration of this meme goes a step further than Raphael’s point about us being nice to God; it extends to us being nice to those to whom God is himself nice. As the master said in Jesus’ Parable of the Unmerciful Servant:

“Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?”

Matthew 18:33. NIV

Well, yes, I suppose I should. And how, then, can I conclude anything other than that my existence here is dualistic in some sense—to be balanced between what is right, and what is merciful–keeping both ever in view?

And the more I wrestle with this question, perhaps the closer I come to understanding God when he says:

Vengeance is mine; I will repay.

dEUTERONOMY 32:35, rOMANS 12:19, hEBREWS 10:30

It seems that when I am mistreated by others there are at least two things going on:

  1. My rights are being violated.
  2. God’s way is being violated.

While that first matter seems quite obviously to be directly my business, the second is clearly between the violator and his Maker. And so I see that I must “decouple” from the latter, as it is simply not my business. And if I should start to think that it is, then I have crossed the line from humility into arrogance—from full-mindedness to narrow-mindedness—from a view that considers, God, the violator, and myself to one that considers mostly just myself.

As to the meme, it would certainly help if we had a society in which there were many people ready and willing to come to the aid of those who are mistreated—who could explain to the violators the error of their ways and urge them to make it right with their victims. Sadly, though, this sort of mature behavior is rare, even among the churches, where it seems that too few spend much time pondering these matters deeply. But I think that the philosophy of God himself calls us to more diligence in thinking about such things. And this one-liner echoes always in my mind:

Give careful thought to your ways…

Haggai 1:5

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