I ran into the uncommon word – forbearance – the other day, and realized I really was not sure of its full meaning. So, I looked it up.
Simply put, it means “patient self-control; restraint and tolerance.”
Now tolerance is a word we have heard about often these days, and it can be quite contentious. Endeavoring to be tolerant is inherently challenging, for we are attempting to permit that with which we disagree with, oftentimes strongly.
J. Budziszewski, a University of Texas professor and ethics expert, writes often about the idea of tolerance, and in an article titled “The Illusion of Moral Neutrality” he wrote: “To tolerate something is to put up with it even though we might be tempted to suppress it … we are tempted to suppress those things that we deem mistaken, painful, wrong, harmful, offensive or in some other way unworthy of approval … But shouldn’t we suppress the things that we deem mistaken, painful, wrong, harmful, offensive and so on? The answer is, sometimes we should and sometimes we shouldn’t. For instance, it’s certainly not acceptable to tolerate a criminal action. But it is certainly right to put up with the profession, by rational argument, of opinions that we deem mistaken.”
Daniel Lattier, in his article “Why So Many ‘Tolerant’ People Are Actually Intolerant,” summarizes it by explaining that genuine tolerance is where someone puts up with something in order to “either prevent graver evils or advance greater goods.”
Lattier, continues: “Thus, for instance, we may tolerate someone voicing a wrong opinion because suppressing it: 1) could lead to further, more insidious suppressions of free speech; 2) could eliminate the chance for truth to shine through when pitted against error.”
However, we also need to endeavor to not “put up with something we should suppress” or “suppress what we should put up with.” This can certainly be both difficult and complicated. Yet, in a free society we are called as citizens to be able to tolerate each other’s diversity.
Indeed, forbearance is even a mark of a mature Christian: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness” (Galatians 5:22).
God certainly also calls us to be tolerant, not only because He expects us to “love our neighbor as ourselves” but also because he himself has demonstrated the ultimate tolerance. According to Romans 3:25: “God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood – to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance [tolerance] he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished.”
Romans 2:4 reads: “Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?”
And perhaps one of the best examples of God’s tolerance and love can be found in Romans 5:8: “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
So, whether as a Christian or simple citizen we should strive to learn how to practice forbearance.
“In the essentials, unity; in the nonessentials, liberty; in all things, charity,” St. Augustine writes.