The other day I was pulling into a parking space and there it was. A blue bumper sticker filled with seven white characters representing different religions or belief systems. It suggests a message that reminds me of Rodney King’s famous line during the 1992 L.A. Riots ‘Can We All Get Along?’[i]. COEXIST is the idea of people existing in mutual tolerance despite our different beliefs, ideologies and interests. On the surface this sounds good and noble. Yet there is something about seeing one of these bumper stickers that upsets me. To be honest I would be ok not to see another one ever again. Let me share with you why I feel this way.
Tolerance is at the center of Coexist
Tolerance has become one of the buzz words of our day. The definition of tolerance is the ability or willingness to tolerate something, in particular the existence of opinions or behaviors that one does not necessarily agree with. It seems to be pretty simple in theory. I believe one way about an issue and you believe a different way and we’ll just agree to disagree. In our postmodern society, tolerance has come to mean that I am to accept and view the opinions and behaviors of others as equally right and valid as mine even if they contradict my beliefs. If taken to the extreme then one should never tell another they do not have a right to think or live any way they see fit.
Let’s think about this concept when it comes to spiritual matters and religion. We have so many different beliefs about things such as the existence of God, the nature of God, the origin of man, man’s ability to relate to or know God, what happens after death and the end of the world. Often the beliefs of one religion are diametrically opposed to the beliefs of another in such a way that it would be impossible for them both to be true.
Let me give a couple of simple examples. I believe that there is a God who created the world and another person believes that there is no God. Both of these beliefs can’t be right. I believe that a person shall not murder another and another person believes that it is acceptable to kill anyone who believes differently than they do. So are we to accept the belief of both as equally right or valid? Or is it ok in instances like this to be intolerant? If so then there must be some objective standard we use to determine this.
Tolerance leads to Polytheism
In my opinion, to COEXIST means to be willing to let go of our beliefs or be silent when we believe that someone else is wrong. To do so allows the other person to think he/she is right in his/her opinion and lifestyle choices. Yet if we buy into this way of thinking we have become a polytheist – one who believes in many gods. Why in the world would I say this?
When we are silent and fail to be true to what we believe it allows everyone to determine for them what is right and wrong. Every ideology, philosophy and religion becomes equally valid and right. We hail the slogan ‘It doesn’t matter what you believe as long as you believe’. Thus it really does not matter if one believes in Allah, Buddha, Krishna, the Dali Lama, Moses, Jesus, evolution or nothing. This leads us to believe that the power is in the one who believes and not who or what is believed in.
This has created a society of many gods (people) who decide what we’ll believe and how we’ll live. We hate when anyone tells us that what we think or how we are living is wrong. So when anyone does they are labeled as intolerant or ‘politically incorrect’. They become maligned and ostracized. We have this push to become a more tolerant society. For when this happens then everyone will get along even in spite of our differences, right?
Tolerance leads to alienation between people
It all sounds so good but it is such an illusion. Like a thirsty man in the desert who thinks he sees water in the distance. He runs towards it. When he gets to where he thought it was it suddenly disappears. It was only a mirage. We long for genuine relationships and love. Tolerance is like a mirage that beckons us to come only to find out like the band U2, ‘I Still Haven’t Found What I‘m Looking For’.
We’ve learned to smile in each other’s faces and talk behind and stab each other in the back. Everything appears to be fine on the surface until the agenda of one person or group begins to deny or revoke the rights of another. This leads us to conflict and hostility. What we thought would make our lives better only further alienates us from one another.
There is One God who we all have rebelled against
A large majority of American adults believe in God.[ii] Yet we fail to realize if there is a God He makes the rules not us. We have rejected the notion of an eternal and transcendent God who created the universe and us. We may give lip service to His existence but we have brought Him down to our level. Some may acknowledge the Bible as the Word of God but quickly reject anything in it that contradicts what they believe to be right for them. God is no longer looked at as the Sovereign over His creation but just one god among many. We have this idea that God should be ok with whatever we believe and however we choose to live. We disregard God while we live here on earth. Yet most of us think that we will go to heaven no matter what we believe[iii]. We play let’s make a deal with God. We think that whatever we offer Him; He should be more than willing to accept.
This is how we think and live but it is not acceptable to God. Many times in the Bible, particularly the Old Testament, God clearly lets us know that He is God and there is no other. The first of the 10 commandments tells us that we shall have no other gods before (or besides) Him (Exodus 20:3). He is the One true and living God who He will not share His glory with another nor His praise with an idol. We have forgotten who really is God and we are in no position to bargain with Him.
This one God eternally exists in three distinct persons (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) who live in a community of perfect fellowship and love. This One God who needs nothing or no one chose to create the heavens and the earth and formed it to be inhabited. God made man and woman in His image and likeness for a relationship with Him (Genesis 1:27). God, in His goodness, gave man and woman everything that they needed. They were created by God for His pleasure and for His glory, to live with Him in obedience to His word. They made the choice to rebel against God’s authority (see Genesis 3) and were sentenced to death and eternal separation from God. Each of us have followed suit in this rebellion against God (Romans 3:23; 5:12). As a result, human beings find ourselves alienated from God and deserving of His wrath (Romans 6:23a).
We find ourselves groping in the darkness trying to find our way. We all hope that our different paths headed in opposite directions will lead us to the same place (heaven). There is no longer a true north that we can all agree on. So we find ourselves not only alienated from our Creator but at odds with one another. That is the bad news and it has left us trying at best to COEXIST with each other.
Only faith in Jesus can bring us into relationship with God and one another
The good news is that this God, in His infinite love, has made a way for men, women, boys and girls to be forgiven, have life and a reconciled relationship with Him. God the Father sent God the Son (Jesus Christ) into this world as a man who lived a perfect life of obedience and died for our sins bearing God’s wrath that we rightly deserve. Jesus died for our sins and rose from the dead so that by trusting in Him we could have new life and a right relationship with God. Jesus said that He is the only way to God (John 14:6)[iv]. He alone can bring us peace with God (Romans 5:1) and our fellow man (Ephesians 2:11-22). Why COEXIST when there is a way for us to live in a loving relationship with God and one another?[v]
[i] See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1sONfxPCTU0
[iv] Listen to the message Jesus Christ One Like No Other found at www.davidwilliamsspeaks.com
[v] To find out more about what it means to have a relationship with God please visit http://www.everyperson.com