A Sobering Thought

A while ago, I came across a saying along the lines of, “You only love God as much as you love the person you hate most”. I don’t remember where I heard it first, but I’m sure I’ve heard it since.

I think the saying is accurate. It seems to echo 1 John 4, where it is said that you can’t love God, whom you have not seen, if you don’t love your brother, whom you have seen.

Now, it might be argued that “brother” might cover only a small proportion of people in general. Perhaps actual family, or it might extend to church family, which seems to be the context of this verse. This argument would not take into account that it’s the people closest to you, who are best at pushing your buttons.

Living with extended family-in-law, in relatively close quarters, toes do get stepped on fairly regularly, and of course there is the occasional blowup. When one’s toes are stepped on fairly regularly, in a limited number of ways, by a small subsection of household members, maintaining an attitude of goodwill can be difficult. It happens when I am the “one” in that sentence, and I can observe it when others are the “one” in that sentence. Harder to see when I am the “small subsection of household members”.

And then there’s the example of Cain and Abel. It’s not uncommon for loving your actual brother to be hard.

That argument aside, though, it’s not just brothers, extended family, or church family. Or co-workers or anyone else you’re obliged to spend a bunch of time with. In Matthew 5, in the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus replaces the old Law with the new, the instruction is to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you”.

I have heard, at least a couple of times on AFR, that it’s hard to hate someone whose salvation and well-being you are praying for. But how about some examples of this in action?

Jesus, of course, at his humiliating execution: “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they do.”

St Stephen, in Acts 7, while being “bludgeoned to death with big rocks” (that last quote, a slightly censored line from a Kevin Smith movie): “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”

Early martyrs are described similarly, though sometimes later ones you might find responding with threats of damnation and such.

Dying to oneself, taking up your cross and following Christ, denying yourself, humility. We see these themes. We see asceticism throughout church history, perhaps most obviously, but not exclusively, in monasticism.

Take this story from the Desert Fathers. I’ve heard it a few times, but on searching for it just now, I found it at this link.

A brother came to see Avva Macarius the Egyptian, and said to him, “Abba, give me a word, that I may be saved.” So the old man said, “Go to the cemetery and abuse the dead.” The brother went there, abused them and threw stones at them; then he returned and told the old man about it.

The latter said to him, “Didn’t they say anything to you?” He replied, “No.” The old man said, “Go back tomorrow and praise them.” So the brother went away and praised them, calling them, “Apostles, saints, and righteous men.” He returned to the old man and said to him, “Did they not answer you?” The brother said, “No.”

The old man said to him, “You know how you insulted them and they did not reply, and how you praised them and they did not speak; so you too, if you wish to be saved, must do the same and become a dead man. Like the dead, take no account of either the scorn of men or their praises, and you can be saved.”

Of course, easier said than done. At the moment, for me, actually remembering any of this stuff when interpersonal difficulties arise, is the difficult part. Or, to put it another way, doesn’t really happen. If I can remember, then actually do it, I think it would be worth it. Theoretically, living together could make saints of us all.

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