To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven: A time to love, and a time to hate…
Ecclesiastes 3.1, 8
The Time Is Now
Before turning to the Advent season, let’s wrap up our study of Solomon’s “Seasons of Life,” starting where we left off with a real doozy—loving and loathing--that immediately asks, “Is there ever a time to hate anyone?” Just as quickly the answer comes back, unequivocally: “No!” Love’s time is now. It can’t wait, because the longer it’s withheld, the less of it there is. And if there’s one thing we need, it’s more love for one another. When Jesus declared His First and Great Commandment to love God with all of our heart, mind, and soul, He instantly attached another: “Love your neighbor as yourself,” stating it was equal to the First. Not loving people as they are—as beings made in God’s likeness, regardless how they’ve corrupted His image—is tantamount to not loving their Creator. “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen,” 1 John 4.20 says. We can try all day and night to justify animosity toward people (or groups of people) who, quite frankly, have worked overtime to earn it. Yet it’s dangerously deceptive to believe it’s legitimately possible to hold hatred for others and love for God in our hearts simultaneously. They can’t occupy the same space.
Love for Sale
Genesis 3.1 tells us, “Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals,” making it the perfect guise for the Tempter. It’s incumbent on us to stay alert to his wiles, because he’s a superlative trickster. His ploys go beyond luring us into disobedience. He also dilutes truth’s importance and power. Since love is central to all we do, he seduces us into mistaking it for a feeling instead of a fact. He cheapens it as a commodity we buy into, rather than a reality we express. The love stories filling our heads, love songs hanging mid-air, and love clichés littering our language aren’t about love at all. They’re about emotions tied to love. Love doesn’t grow. It doesn’t mean never having to say you’re sorry. It can’t be fallen in or out of. Love just is, because God is and God is love. Feelings wax and wane, but love remains constant. It’s inextricably rooted in our beings to reflect of our Maker. As Romans 5.5 tells us, “God has poured out his love into our hearts.” Therefore, love isn’t ours to give or take. It’s God’s and He placed it in us so wherever we are, His reality is manifested by love. Feeling love instead of being love mucks everything up by concealing God’s presence from others and us.
Sinners, Sin, and Side Effects
Those of us old enough to remember Anita Bryant—former Miss America, modestly talented singing star, and pitch-person for orange juice and rental cars—recall her trying to smooth over her uncharitable opposition to a Florida gay rights initiative with this: “As a born-again Christian, I love the sinner, but I hate the sin.” How cleverly convenient is that? Her lopsided argument caught fire and spread across intolerant pulpits everywhere. Had someone paused to square it against Christ’s teaching of love, though, two things would have made ashes of the wildfire straightaway. First, not once did Jesus expand His commandment to love to include separating the person from his/her behavior. Indeed, He never referred to those we must love as sinners at all, but neighbors and enemies. And second, Jesus adamantly denied our rights to condemn another or his/her sin. “If you judge,” He said, “you’ll be judged by the same standards.” Look no further than Ms. Bryant for proof. Her loving fans found her bigotry so hateful they vanished. She crashed while those she claimed to love (conditionally) soared ahead.
Getting back to Solomon, when if ever does the “time to hate” arrive? After taking the right to hate anyone or his/her sin off the table, we’re left with sin’s enormous damages—poverty, inequality, grief, fear, disease, and innumerable other evils. Whether globally or individually, hate times come when we identify side effects of iniquity. Extreme caution and delicacy in what we think, do, and say become necessary. Loving people despite their behavior while hating its consequences calls for tolerance without indulgence, acceptance without approval. We love our neighbors and enemies no matter what they think or do, but we loathe the evil of their actions. Times to hate demand demonstrations of love. It sounds ironic. But it’s not.