Friday, July 08, 2016

How to Conquer Hate: Infinite Love

As a resident of Dallas County, I'm very aware of the tragedy of last night's shooting. I join with those all over the world who mourn the loss of those who died, but I think that beyond the loss of human life, people are upset because they believe that this is something that should not be happening. Yes, the shooting was an evil act, and I agree that we don't want any evil in the world, but I think many are hurting and angry because they think we should be beyond this by now. In other words, hasn't the human race progressed to the point where this shouldn't happen anymore?

I think that it is true that in the United States there is less racism than there used to be. I believe I have observed changes for the better during the course of my life, not only in myself, but in those around me. It then becomes easy to think, "if I've learned to know better, why hasn't everyone else?" Well, it's much more complicated than that. We may not be as enlightened as we would like to think.

Race is just one way that we can divide the human family into groups such that one group feels superior to the other and can blame the other for their problems. While many of us have learned the absurdity of believing one skin color is superior to another, we may feel perfectly justified in believing that other divisions are valid. Here is a test: if you or I believe the world would be a better place if a particular group of people did not exist, or if we put the blame for a bunch of problems on a group, or if we think we are superior in some way to those in another group, we are guilty of group hatred.

Here is a list of groups or classes that I've heard people recently make the target of blame, exclusion, or elimination: black people, white males, illegal immigrants, Israeli's, Palestinians, Muslims, Sunni, Shia, Christians, atheists, religious people, fundamentalists, liberals, conservatives, iPhone users, Android users, old people, young people, Republicans, Democrats, people of privilege, people on welfare, the top one percent, and the homeless. What I'm not talking about is having disagreements over ideas, but rather when we move beyond debating an issue to vilifying a group.

A good example to look at are the two political parties in the United States. Although a number of people in the US are relatively independent, I am shocked by the number of people who will defend their party in all things while vilifying everything about the other party. What are the chances that one party will take the correct position on all issues while the other party is wrong about everything? Have these people actually analyzed the platforms of the parties and come to the conclusion that their party is right on everything? I don't think that is the case with most of them. Rather, they have found one group to identify with that they have decided is superior. The opposite group becomes a convenient target for blame, and putting the other group down makes one feel superior.

Much more could be said about the nature of group hatred, but I want to move on to the solution, which begins by looking at the source of the problem described in Genesis chapter 3. Here we see Eve in the Garden of Eden talking to the snake, while Adam apparently stands by, doing nothing. The snake says that God doesn't want them to eat the fruit of the tree because "God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil" (5). Adam and Eve believed the snake, and so they ate the fruit, choosing the direction of the human race as a race of people trying to achieve godhood. If my goal is achieving godhood, then my goal is to be superior to all others. However, immediately Adam and Eve become aware of the nakedness. They feel exposed and ashamed of how un-godlike they are, so they attempt to cover up with fig leaves. Group identity is a kind of fig leaf we use today. When God asks them about what they've done, Adam blames Eve, and Eve blames the snake. Neither of them take responsibility for having done wrong because wrong doing would be a setback on the road to godhood. In chapter 4, when God accepts Abel's sacrifice, but rejects Cain's, the humiliation is so great that Cain decides the elimination of Abel is the only way Cain can obtain superiority, and thus we have the first murder. I believe these two chapters show patterns of human behavior that include the desire for superiority, the tendency to blame others, and the desire to eliminate those who threaten our standing.

This is the origin of hate, and because it is so deep within fallen man, it cannot be solved by education or government programs. Such solutions may address one kind of hatred and remove a particular injustice, but the seeds of hatred are still there, and they can manifest in other ways. I'm not saying that social programs do not help, but they will not provide an ultimate solution.

Jesus provides the answer when he tells us, "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you." This is the only answer because even if I am able to avoid the practice of hating another group, I will belong to a group that is hated by others, and thus it is impossible to avoid having enemies. Whether you are a Democrat, Republican, Independent, or non-voter, someone out there thinks you are part of the problem in our country. If you are an atheist, you will be hated by some religious people, and if you are religious, you will be hated by some atheists. If you are an agnostic, you will be hated by some atheists and religious people for not making up your mind. The only way to respond to these enemies that you did not ask for, without falling into hate, is to respond with love.

Anyone who is honest will know that we don't have it in us to love our enemies. It's hard enough to love those who are good to us, so I don't have anything left for the person who hates me. Besides, if I love my enemy, he will take advantage of my "weakness" and press his advantage against me. I have to protect myself!

It is Jesus who gives us what we need in order to obey his command. He is the source of infinite love because Jesus is God joined to our human nature, and through that union of God and man, Jesus makes the infinite love of God available to his followers. When we draw on the infinite love of God, we never have to worry about running out. There is plenty of love to meet our own needs, the needs of our loved ones, and the needs of our enemies. Is it possible that our enemies might take advantage of our love and do us harm? Yes, that is certainly what happened to Jesus on the cross, and he loved and prayed for those who tortured and killed him. However, three days later, Jesus rose from the dead, and he promises life from death to those who follow him in love.

Therefore, I urge people to cease trying to become godlike by putting others down. Instead, let us put our trust in Jesus and let him lift us to eternal life. Receive his love and let it overflow to others. Do not fear what others might do to you because nothing can separate you from the love of God.

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