Monday, April 16, 2018

Hate And Love

"Hate And Love"
1 John 2:9-11, 15-17

Where does hatred come from?

Psychologists believe hatred was developed in the human mind and heart back in the primitive caveman days of humankind.  Humans, sadly, had to develop the ability to quickly separate friend from enemy in order to survive.

Think about it.  When you meet someone for the first time, or you see someone you don’t know walking towards you, what does your mind do?  Whether you sense it or not, your mind goes on high alert.  You are checking the person out in all kinds of ways.  Their facial expression.  How they dress.  How they are walking and how they carry themselves.  You may think you are just doing a quick mental scan to judge them.  But all those basic prejudices you have developed and are using can be reduced down to two:  enemy or friend.  Whether you realize it or not, you are making that evaluation every time you meet someone, including those you already know.

So your mental assessment will do one of two things with your body:  tense you up and get you ready for combat, or relax you and get you ready for welcome.

We have learned, through hundreds of thousands of years, to make this quick assessment of others.  If we mistake an enemy for a friend, it could be fatal.  So, it is the theory that this primal judgement of determining who was an enemy formed the basis for the development of hate.  It was out of one’s constant alertness to a physical threat that hatred began—because hatred was one way to keep yourself alive or at least safe.

But today, many threats in our daily lives aren’t physical.  They are psychological.  With each person you meet, you aren’t having to quickly evaluate if they are going to attack or try to kill you or not (unless you lived in the Middle East).  Instead, you may be assessing if they are an emotional enemy—someone you’re not sure you can trust.  Or, wondering if they really have your best interest in mind.  Or, if they are just wanting information for the gossip mill in order to attack your character.  Your defenses don’t involve pulling out your sword, but instead putting on a face or demeanor that is sober and unreadable, while inwardly your emotions may be starting to boil into hate.

No matter which kind of threat we might be sensing, physical or psychological, there is that primitive impulse that wells up within us which seeks to destroy the threat.  We may not express it out loud, but we know our own thoughts.  The passions of hate come from deep within us, and from this nearly unconscious way we evaluate and think of others.

There are several features of how hate bubbles up from the way we think.

First, hate wants to assign blame for some kind of misfortune you may have experienced.  When bad things happen, or are happening to us, who do we hold responsible?  A majority of the time, we don’t blame ourselves.  Since we don’t like bad things to happen to us, or those we love, and since we quickly move to blame for the bad things that happen to us, we make those we blame into an enemy, and we hate them for it.

But that kind of hatred, which comes out in the form of blaming, is often based on bad thinking on our part.  For example, we may think we have to always be right, even when we are not.  It’s easier to blame an enemy and bubble up hatred, rather than do some deeper self-examination in order to figure out how we are involved in our own current condition.

Our thinking process doesn’t want to face the fact that there are almost always many causes that contribute towards all kinds of hate producing emotions.  A big piece of the truth that we may not want to see is that probably a majority share in the blame for escalation of our intense emotions and subsequent hatred lies within our own bad thinking.

And besides, there are some times it just may be unavoidable bad luck that happens to everyone.  Blame doesn’t rest on anyone in particular.  Instead of seeing how many sides there are to all situations, we would rather make it an us-against-them situation, lighting the match of hatred.

Secondly, we give rise to hatred out of a misguided effort to keep our group, our family, our circle of friendships, even our congregation, the “in-group,” while at the same time making everyone else the hated out-group.  As long as we are keeping ourselves in the in-group, we can find all kinds of reasons to see ourselves as superior.  This kind of discrimination goes back to our primitive ways of separating others into friends and enemies, loving only friends and hating the enemy to the point of desiring to grind them into the dust.  And we pass that hatred from generation to generation.

Thirdly, if we fall for the in-group/out-group kind of thinking, it’s a quick jump towards giving ourselves permission to destroy those who are hated.  If we see ourselves as victims to some evil other, some repulsive person or group of persons, this gives us a false sense of permission or power to do away with them, either by severe exclusion or death.

This means we are usually thinking of ourselves as the good people.  Then we label others as evil, or beastly, or dangerous for one reason or another.  We think we are protecting ourselves by denigrating others.  And that gives us the false permission to hate others and do them harm.  Or do them in, entirely.

I hope you are beginning to see that hate begins subtly, but can blossom into something unbelievably powerful and bad.  Hate is an awful virus.  It twists life and makes everything sideways.  It destroys relationships, including our healthy ones.  If you’re getting what I’m saying about hate clear in your minds, you can easily understand why John wrote in his letter that, “Anyone who claims to live in God’s light and hates a brother or sister is still in the dark.”

That’s why I think John wrote that “brother and sister” means, primarily, those within the communion of Christ’s fellowship.  But I also have the feeling that it doesn’t stop there with just the church.  Certainly Jesus’ view was much broader and more inclusive than any of us would like.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said,
This is what God does.  He gives his best—the sun to warm and the rain to nourish—to everyone, regardless:  the good and bad, the nice and nasty.  If all you do is love the lovable, do you expect a bonus?  Anybody can do that.  If you simply say hello to those who greet you, do you expect a medal?  Any run-of-the-mill sinner does that.  In a word, what I’m saying is, Grow up.  You’re kingdom subjects.  Now live like it.  Live out your God-created identity.  Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you” (Matthew 5:46-48).

What Jesus is doing is over-riding our primordial instinct to immediately judge if another is enemy or friend, worthy of hatred or love.  The power of God over-rides that internal judgement and we get to make only one evaluation and response to others:  greet all people as friends and love them.

In another place in that same Sermon on the Mount, Jesus also said,
Your eyes are windows into your body.  If you open your eyes wide in wonder and belief, your body fills up with light.  If you live squinty-eyed in greed and distrust, your body is a dank cellar.  If you pull the blinds on your windows, what a dark life you will have!”  (Matthew 6:22-23)

Notice how both Jesus and John use the imagery of being in the light or in the dark when describing how we deal with people in distrust, greed, and hate.  John uses a reverse kind of image in order to make his point even more strongly.  He wrote that people who hate are “...blinded by the darkness.”  Usually we think of being blinded by the light, not the darkness.  But darkness is just as effective at cutting off our ability to see life, see life situations, or see others clearly.

By describing hate in terms of light and dark, both Jesus and John are not allowing for any gray here.  You are either of the light or the dark.  You either hate or you don’t.  You either live in the realm of love and light, or of darkness and hate.  If you claim to be a follower of Jesus, you don’t get to choose the dark side, the side of hate.  It would be living a life of contradiction.  You would be living a lie.  That kind of life-lie isn’t allowed by John or Jesus.

As Christians, we aren’t given the option of hating.  We don’t get to choose whom we will put on our hate list.  The truth is, that list doesn’t even get to exist.  That means we aren’t allowed to hate others in any way, shape, or form.  Paul wrote in Romans 12:9, “Hate what is evil.”  Since John is further equating hate with evil, then we must hate hate.  The only thing we are allowed to hate is hate itself.

In the next section of chapter 2, John moves us further along, looking at love by telling us what love is not, and what we shouldn’t love:  “Don’t love the world’s ways.  Don’t love the world’s goods.  Love of the world squeezes out love for the Father.”

John, in this part of his letter, is not saying, “Don’t love.”  Rather, John is saying that we need to take stock of what we do love.  Certain loves, certain ways we love, have a way of squeezing out and pressing down upon other objects of love, and other ways we love.

Here’s a little exercise I’d like you to do.  On the blank sheet of paper in the bulletin I’d like you to draw a big circle.  Now, beneath the circle, or on the back of the paper, make a quick list of all the people and things you would say you love.  You can either be general or specific.  For example, you could put down, “my children,” on the list, or you could list each child individually.

After you’ve made your list, look at the circle.  It’s going to be a pie chart.  It represents all the love you have.  You have to now divide up all that love you have and put each person/thing from your list into the pie chart, in proportion to how much love you have for them.  I’ll give you a couple of minutes to do all that.  Go.

(After everyone looks done). If you’re done, take a good look at your pie chart.  What is it telling you?  What do you see?  What is going on in light of the love you have to give in your life?  Have you been absolutely honest with yourself?  Hearing that question, would you, in all honesty, go back and adjust the size of any of the pieces of your pie, smaller or larger?

Part of what it seems to me that John is saying about love is that we only have so much love.  What love there is, is divided up into slices.  The size of each piece will determine where we put the effort of our loving.

I wonder, if you did this exercise 10, 20, 30 years ago, what your pie chart would have looked like.  How has it changed over the years, and why?  Or, how has the size of your total pie—thus the amount of love you have to work with—changed?  Is your pie—your love—tiny, like the size of a tart?  Or is it huge, the size of one of those Costco pies?  Maybe it’s not just the sizes of the pieces that changes, but the size of your sense of how much love you have to begin with.

And here’s the most important question.  The main question for John is, how big is the slice of this pie that you have labeled, “God”?  I’m not going to make you raise you hands, but what does it tell you if you forgot to, or didn’t even think to put a slice for God in your pie chart?  What adjustments need to be made as you look at your chart and see how God fits in, concerning the objects of your love?

It’s not just the objects of love that may be in conflict with God, but also why we love what we love.  A more authentic and properly motivated love, according to John, is a love which gives God the priority sized piece in our pie, and then doing what God wants because God is our main love priority.  Love comes not from the self, and is not about the self.  Love is about God and it’s by God.

So, following John’s thoughts here, God is not only to be the primary and greatest object of our love, God is also supposed to be the main way we love.  To love most authentically and fully, God is both the ends and the means of all our loving.

So, hate and love.  John, in his black and white, either/or way of thinking, is making the point we live out of either hate or love.  In God, or not.  Our purpose, as Christians, is to move from the one (hate) to the other (love).  To move from darkness to light.  That can only happen, not simply by choices we make but by making one choice—to be transformed by God.  To make God the destination and the direction for all of who we are, so that we may truly know what Love is.

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