I recently saw a video by Dennis Prager, a prominent Jewish conservative and president of PragerU. In it he spoke with confidence how anyone who says they “love the Nazis” doesn’t know love at all. He inquired, “How can a person who says they love evil people also say they love Mother Teresa or Dietrich Bonhoeffer?” When I showed this to my Bible study groups they all agreed with that statement. So, I then asked, who else in our lives has sinned and doesn’t deserve God’s love? What level of sin does it take to be wholly rejected, never to even have the hope of forgiveness by God?
A few ladies relented and said, “Well if they asked for forgiveness on their deathbed then ok.” Which brought the next question, “So God didn’t love you until you asked for forgiveness?” And if God hated them why would He even give them a second chance, if not out of love? Wouldn’t the entire message of Jesus be pointless if we really believed this? God sent His Son to die for us, while we were still sinners (Romans 5:8). Not after we begged Him not to smote us. He loved us first. He’s commanding us to love first. This doesn’t mean the unrepentant won’t be judged. Far from it. But the beauty of God’s love is that He provides that path toward redemption and the knowledge that final retribution is His purview.
Which leads me to a second way this week to love as Jesus did. You’ll notice throughout the Gospels that Jesus sees individuals. The woman at the well was just another hated Samaritan to the Jews. But to Jesus, she was a woman in distress. A woman who had given in to a sinful lifestyle. The bleeding woman who touched the edge of his garment was just another sickly, sinful, woman who the average person disdained and ignored. She was “one of those people.” He stopped his large entourage and saw her. Saw her pain and sin and need.
Jesus shows us it’s a mistake to pass judgement on a whole people. Our propensity to group people into categories of who we like and don’t like is why there’s so much political ugliness today. While I of course don’t “love” the atrocities that were committed by the Nazis, how easy is it for us to group all German men and women who were individuals with families, jobs, dreams, fears, etc? Did too many of them hate another group of people they also saw as faceless? Yes. And the cycle went and continues to go around and around. The Arabs hate the Jews, Liberals hate Conservatives, Serbs hate Croatians, Americans hate the Russians, Protestants and Catholics hate each other, Hindus and Muslims hate each other, etc. But each of those groups are made up of people; people created in His image, all descendants of one man and one woman.
Looking back over the COVID years we can see how many “ordinary” people get caught up in doing what those in power demand for fear of retribution. Or going along because it seemed the right thing at the time. And now in the Western world we have the vaccinated versus the unvaccinated and the masked versus the unmasked. We fall so easily in to Satan’s trap of erasing each other’s individuality. He doesn’t want us to look at people as individuals because when we do, we can see ourselves. We can see their failings just like our own. We see their fears and their hopes.
Does that mean we should only hate the people in power? Jesus loved the Pharisees too. Of all the people He spoke to throughout the Gospels it’s the Pharisees on whom He seemed to spend the most effort. Why would He do that? He saw each of them as men with failings. He didn’t turn Nicodemus away when he approached seeking answers. He didn’t toss him out on his ear. No, Jesus loved him as an individual man seeking the truth. When He came, He came to save all of them too.
Mr. Prager, not having faith in Jesus, still lives in the eye for an eye world. A world where there must be constant sacrifice to try and lighten the stain of sin. He doesn’t accept how God loves us so much He sent the ultimate sacrifice to cleanse us. He hasn’t the benefit of knowing Jesus will be the ultimate judge. And that Jesus will be the one to send the unrighteous to hell. No, unfortunately the person, no matter the faith, race or nationality that doesn’t know Jesus needs and wants earthly retribution. And that equates hatred, not love.
During the time of the Holocaust, Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the man mentioned by Mr. Prager, fled to America. While in the United States he realized God was calling him back to Germany to help his fellow man. He aided thousands of Jews and others in escaping death. He spoke out against the atrocities being committed. He was eventually arrested and in the waning days of the war was executed. If there was anyone who could speak of hating the Nazis it was him.
“Christian love draws no distinction between one enemy and another, except that the more bitter our enemy’s hatred, the greater his need of love. Be his enmity political or religious, he has nothing to expect from a follower of Jesus but unqualified love. In such love there is not inner discord between the private person and official capacity. In both we are disciples of Christ, or we are not Christians at all.”Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
My friends, if we want to live a life free of hatred, free of the turmoil it causes, Jesus has shown us what to till in our hearts – love. Loving people enough to truly help them find real, eternal freedom. To see God’s creation the way He does – as individuals loved by Him. He didn’t say it was easy. Oh no, it’s probably one of the most difficult requests put forth for us worldly creatures. That’s why He didn’t leave us to figure it out ourselves. Holding on to hatred and extreme anger is not the garden God wants as our home.
“The list of ways chronic anger can affect a person’s well-being – and even put the health of others in peril – is long, John Schinnerer, an anger management coach says. “It’s been linked to obesity, low self-esteem, migraines, drug and alcohol addiction, depression, sexual performance problems, increased heart attack risk, lower-quality relationships, higher probability of abusing others emotionally or physically or both … higher blood pressure and stroke,” he notes.
For our physical and spiritual health we need to release that anger and not leave that space empty for the devil to fill it up again with weeds. Instead, Jesus, our good doctor, gave us the healing power of love. When you find yourselves acting, speaking, thinking out of hatred or anger toward a group of people we must first choose to obey Jesus and seek another action, another perspective. Call on the Holy Spirit. Remind yourself that the fruit of that Spirit starts with Love. For when you do, that little sprout of love will blossom into an unimaginable garden of beauty and shock those around you. It will do what is promised by Jesus in the rest of John 13: “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
Coming up: The gardening tasks of Love