Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Hatred and Other Life-Consuming Emotions

Hatred is like cancer, diabetes, or the Giardia parasite. They consume you within and co-opt your thought life. Today, I walked passed a 9-11 memorial. Someone had inscribed below it, “Never Forget!” Perhaps we shouldn’t forget, but remembering seems to evoke bitterness and hatred – things that we are supposed to flee for our Lord’s sake and also for ours. Wouldn’t it therefore be better to merely forget so that we can refocus on our main callings – love and Gospel?

One woman explained, “I can’t keep thinking about the persecution of Christians if I am going to love my enemies.” Many of us sympathize with this thinking and try to turn away from life’s unpleasantries. Consequently, we can enter into amicable but superficial dialogues with our would-be-enemies, studiously avoiding the crying issues of injustice and even genocide.

Meanwhile, others, at the opposite extremity, feed themselves, and anyone else who will listen, with a steady stream of things we must “never forget” in their pursuit of justice. Meanwhile, such a feeding frenzy consumes them with bitterness.

However, despite the costs of pursuing justice, justice is something that is required, as Moses had instructed:

·        Appoint judges and officials for each of your tribes in every town the Lord your God is giving you, and they shall judge the people fairly…Follow justice and justice alone, so that you may live and possess the land the Lord your God is giving you. (Deut. 16:18-20).

If Israel didn’t pursue justice, they would pay a terrible price:

·        House of David, this is what the Lord says: “Administer justice every morning;        rescue from the hand of his oppressor the one who has been robbed, or my wrath will break out and burn like fire because of the evil you have done.” (Jeremiah 21:12)

However, it is hardly possible to pursue justice if we refuse to regard injustice. Refusing to see injustice, we can find no reason to pursue justice. However, this pursuit is a requirement:

·        Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy. (Proverbs 31:8-9)

Advocating for the downtrodden requires that we see their plight and the injustice that might have caused it. However, how can we “never forget” about the injustices and yet walk in love without bitterness? How can we champion the victim without hating the victimizer? Closer to home: How can we love those who have hurt us and perhaps even remain a threat?

It’s relatively easy to forgive and not hate the Nazis who had exterminated 6 million of my Jewish people – they no longer remain a threat - but how can I not hate the billion-plus Muslims who now want to destroy their homeland and those that argue that Jews are descended from apes and pigs and therefore should be slaughtered?

One possible response is denial. A small group of Hasidic Jews – the Neturei Karta – pride themselves in joining Palestinian demonstrations against the State of  Israel, claiming:

·        A large part of the Jewish people spent centuries of their exile living under Muslim governments of North Africa and Middle East, including Palestine. The relations between the Jews and Muslims in these countries were historically very good.

This claim is remarkably reminiscent of Israel’s complaint against Moses, when they were backed against the Red Sea:

·        As Pharaoh approached, the Israelites looked up, and there were the Egyptians, marching after them…They said to Moses, "Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die? What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt? Didn't we say to you in Egypt, 'Leave us alone; let us serve the Egyptians'? It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!" (Exodus 14:10-12)

Denial may temporarily build relational bridges. I’ve even heard that the Iranian President Ahmadinejad had hosted the Neturei Karta. However, it is also necessary to be alert to the dangers. Likewise, we may enjoy junk food, but junk food may not be kind to us.

I think that the solution for bringing love and justice and other real-world concerns into harmony can only be found in our Savior. How can we love others as we remain vulnerable to their threat? We need to know that we are perfectly safe and loved, but how can we have this assurance?

First of all, we need to always remind ourselves of the good things that He has done for us. This was often the solution of the grieving Psalmist:

·        Will the Lord reject forever? Will he never show his favor again?... Has God forgotten to be merciful? Has he in anger withheld his compassion?... Then I thought…I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago. (Psalm 77:7-11)

We have to remind ourselves that if God has cared for us in the past, this is evidence that He will continue to do so. In fact, we have His many promises of His future protection:

·        Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. (Philip. 1:6)

·        And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28)

·        But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God's wrath through him! For if, when we were God's enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! (Romans 5:8-10)

In short, our enemies can’t truly hurt us:

  • Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. (Matthew 10:28-30)
  • What he [God] opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open. (Rev. 3:7)
We may be weak and vulnerable, but no one can shut the door of life to us without our Lord’s okay. And if He gives His okay, it is only because He has a loving purpose for this. In the case of this Philadelphian church, the Spirit of God assures them that their deliverance doesn’t depend upon them but upon God:

  • See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut. I know that you have little strength...I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming upon the whole world. (Rev. 3:8, 10)
It didn’t matter how much strength they had or what defenses they had put in place against their enemy. Instead, God would be their Savior, and therefore they would be able to live for Him without hatred and bitterness.

If anyone had good reason to fear and hate his enemies, in was King Jehoshaphat. When he heard that a “great army” was coming to annihilate Jerusalem, they all “feared” knowing that they were “powerless.” However, the Lord assured them:

  • “Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours, but God's. Tomorrow march down against them. They will be climbing up by the Pass of Ziz, and you will find them at the end of the gorge in the Desert of Jeruel. You will not have to fight this battle. Take up your positions; stand firm and see the deliverance the Lord will give you, O Judah and Jerusalem. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Go out to face them tomorrow, and the Lord will be with you." (2 Chron. 20:15-17)
In obedience to God’s Word, all Jerusalem when out to watch the deliverance of the Lord, as they sang, "Give thanks to the Lord, for his love endures forever" (2 Chron. 20:21), and watched as the Lord disposed of their enemy.

Likewise, we too need not worry. We belong to Him:

  • I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20)

  • Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body. (1 Cor. 6:19-20)
What a blessing to know that we belong to Him, and that He will watch over His precious investments! This holy knowledge can free us up to love those who represent a threat to us. It can also embolden us to speak the truth in love and to pursue justice. Let us pray that He will plant these truths deeply within our hearts.

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