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The Beginning of It All

[Editor's note: the following is an excerpt from Ch. 1 of The Greatest Lie by Dr. Michael Youssef, available through Intermedia Publishing Group, Inc.]

What is the sum of two plus two?

Four, you say?

What if I told you that two plus two equals five? Would you still insist that the answer is four?

If I choose to believe two plus two equals five, who are you to tell me I‘m wrong? Some people might say that two plus two equals three. Others might say that two plus two equals a hundred or a thousand or a gazillion.

You may be thinking, Two plus two always equals four. It's not a matter of opinion. It's a matter of fact.

Well, you have your truth, but someone else may have a different truth. It‘s fine to say that two plus two equals four. That answer may be the right answer for you, but who‘s to say it‘s the right answer for everyone?

Don‘t all paths ultimately lead to the correct answer?

You aren‘t suggesting that some people‘s answers are actually wrong, are you? Don‘t you realize how intolerant and narrow-minded you sound?

The True Meaning of Tolerance

No one likes to be called intolerant. We prize our reputation for tolerance, just as we prize our reputation for being intelligent, honest, and so forth. We hate to have other people think that we are narrow-minded or bigoted in any way.

Some people may think it‘s intolerant and narrow-minded to say that two plus two never equals three, never equals five, but only equals four. But if you are not willing to accept the fact that two plus two always equals four, then you are going to be at a serious disadvantage in this world. You won‘t be able to correctly count your change at the grocery store, balance your checkbook, or fill out your tax return—and that‘s when you‘ll find out how intolerant the Internal Revenue Service can be.

We must always be tolerant of other people in terms of differing opinions, ethnicity, language, and so forth. We must always treat other people with respect and learn to get along with them. That kind of tolerance is an admirable quality, and we all need to practice it.

But sometimes people misuse the word "tolerance." For example, there have been times when I have said, "Jesus is the only way to God the Father," and people have said to me, "That‘s an intolerant statement. That‘s religious bigotry. You need to be tolerant of other people‘s beliefs."

Well, I am tolerant of other people‘s beliefs. I have never forced any Muslim or Buddhist or atheist, or person of no religion at all, to accept my beliefs. I am willing to listen to their views, and I don‘t hesitate to share mine in a polite and respectful way. But I will not say that Islam or Buddhism or atheism is as valid as faith in Jesus Christ, because He says otherwise. The belief that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life is central to God‘s truth. The greatest lie says, "No, Jesus is one of many ways that will take you to heaven."

You and I can disagree over our respective beliefs, and I promise I will still treat you cordially. I will not pretend to agree with you. While I have the evidence on my side, I will be respectful. As long as you are cordial and respectful, we will get along just fine in spite of our disagreements. That‘s what it means to be genuinely tolerant of one another.