What the world needs now is love, sweet love
It’s the only thing that there’s just too little of
What the world needs now is love, sweet love
No not just for some
But for everyone
-Hal David and Burt Bacharach, 1965
We hear a lot about love these days. One of the more popular hashtags on social media is lovewins.
Love is proposed as the solution to all the world’s ills and hate as the world’s ultimate problem. If we could all just love more, we could create a heaven on earth, right?
Love is supposedly the answer to terrorism, to abuse, to poverty, to climate change, to inequality, etc.
All we need is love!
Is that true, though? Does the world have a shortage of love and an overabundance of hate? Is that the problem?
Genuine love vs. corrupted love
Most of us try to teach our kids not to hate. We’re right to do so when we’re talking about the kind of hate often experienced in this world: hatred of people different than us, hatred returned for hatred, and hatred of anyone or anything that gets in the way of what we want. This hatred is the epitome of pride, and pride is a sin against God and others.
When Adam and Eve disobeyed God in the garden (Genesis 3), they chose to put something above their Creator. They chose a piece of fruit, and the wisdom Satan promised it would give them, over their relationship with God and the rightful worship due Him. In going their own way, Adam and Eve declared themselves to be their own gods. It was pride that wreaked havoc in the garden.
At that moment, sin took root in their very being. No longer did they love God supremely or each other selflessly. This pride and sin nature would be passed on to their children and their children’s children so that the world would be populated by people born sinners, prideful, and in rebellion against God (Romans 3:23).
It isn’t long in the story before this pride, this hardness of heart towards God, turns into hatred between brothers resulting in murder (Genesis 4:1-8). Cain and his brother Abel bring an offering to God, but Cain’s offering is given insincerely and God refuses it. God seeks Cain out. He warns Cain of the dangerous path he is on, but instead of humbling himself and turning toward God, Cain hardens his heart further and then turns against his brother, Abel, whose offering was accepted. Cain’s murder of Abel didn’t begin with hate, it ended there; Cain’s murder of Abel began with Cain’s corrupted love of himself above God.
We are told in Romans 12:9 sincere or genuine love is a combination of abhorring (hating) what is evil and holding fast to what is good. Hate is an essential part of genuine love, but when love is corrupted, so is hate. The answer to the world’s problems, then, isn’t the annihilation of hate, but the redemption of love.
What we love defines what we hate
It isn’t what we hate that defines what we love but the opposite: what we love defines what we hate. If we love wrongly, we will hate wrongly. The truth is, if you do not hate anything, you do not love anything. In a fallen world, there are evils love demands we hate!
“The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference.”
– Elie Wiesel, an Auschwitz survivor
Attempting to rid the world of hate can lead to gross injustice. I remember hearing the story of a man who refused to acknowledge good and evil and, therefore, refused to hate or reject any behavior, even the rape of a child. This is the indifference Elie Wiesel was speaking of. It is an indifference that allows for the flourishing of evil.
We do God a disservice when we use the fact of His love to mean that there is nothing He hates or is against. The truth is God hates unrighteousness as much as He loves righteousness, and thank goodness that He does! Could I believe God loved children if He didn’t hate child abuse or that He loved the poor if He didn’t hate it when they were taken advantage of?
God is a righteous judge and a God who feels indignation every day. Psalm 7:11
I have told my kids they are not allowed to use the word hate in a flippant manner out of unrighteous anger, pride, or selfishness, but at the same time, I am teaching them that there are things they must hate because there are things God hates (Proverbs 6:16-19). I don’t want to train my kids to go through life without hate, I want to train them there is a time to hate (Ecclesiastes 3:8) and that hate must be defined by what God loves. God hates sin, wickedness, and evil because He loves righteousness, truth, and goodness!
When Scripture tells us God is love (1 John 4:8), what it is ultimately telling us is that love has a definition and that definition isn’t determined by you or I. Every command to love in the Bible is a command to live up to this definition. Because God is love, our love should be a reflection of His character and righteousness.
In the Old Testament, God calls His people, the Israelites, to live set apart from other nations. He calls them to live in genuine love reflecting His holy character and gives them the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1-17). Unfortunately, they fail to keep them.
The Law pointed God’s people to the genuine love they were to have toward God and each other and the sin they were to hate and reject, but The Law couldn’t fix the corrupted love that ruled their hearts.
In the New Testament, when Jesus is asked which commandment is the greatest, He sums up all the commandments in an overarching call to love God supremely and your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:37-39). Here is the problem, because we are sinners, we are incapable of living up to this call as much as the Israelites were incapable of perfectly keeping the Ten Commandments.
In our sinful nature, we do not love with genuine love hating what is evil and holding fast to what is good. We do not love God with all our heart, all our soul, and all our mind or our neighbors as ourselves. That is not to say that we are incapable of any love at all, but it is to say that our love is always corrupted at some level by sin. It always falls short of perfect sincerity.
Corrupted love produces corrupted hate
If you were to ask a group of people to name the most evil man or woman of modern times, Hitler would probably receive a lot of votes. After all, he was the force behind the murder of millions of people and specifically the murder of millions of Jews. The reign of Hitler and the Nazis was a bottomless pit of depravity and horror. It would be easy to assume such evil was motivated by hatred, and in a way it was, but as you study Hitler’s life, it becomes evident that his greatest motivation was what he loved. Like Cain, his corrupted love led to a corrupted hate and ultimately the murder of millions of innocent human beings.
We may never commit the act of murder, but how many of us get through life without unrighteous anger toward another person (Matthew 5:21-22)? In Matthew 5, Jesus reminds us that sin doesn’t only encompass physical actions but includes what goes on in the secret recesses of our hearts and minds. Committing murder is a failure to love with a genuine love, but it isn’t enough to avoid the physical act of murder, there is a purity of heart that must exist as well. This is true of all sin.
Laws are important, but laws alone aren’t enough to bring about the change we long for in ourselves, our communities, and our world. Laws only deal with physical actions: murder, rape, stealing, cheating, etc. Laws cannot reach down into people’s hearts and change what they love.
A law can tell us we are not allowed to discriminate against someone based on the color of their skin, but a law cannot make us less racist. A law can prohibit a man from raping a woman, but a law cannot force men to value women. A law can make it illegal for a man or woman to abuse their spouse, but it cannot make a husband and wife honor each other. Laws have no power over our hearts. In fact, history is proof that corrupted love often creates unjust law. We will never regulate the human heart into genuine, sincere love.
Every sin, every act of violence, and the worst of human history didn’t begin with hate, they ended with hate, but they began with corrupted love. Our fallen, prideful hearts distort what we love and what we hate so we celebrate evil and reject righteousness. When we set our lives by this broken compass, suffering and destruction naturally follow.
Jesus is the answer
This is why the answer to sin, suffering, and evil can’t simply be love, but must be redemption. Our need isn’t for more love; our need is for genuine love. First, to receive the genuine love of God in Christ Jesus and then to reciprocate that genuine love back to God and out to our neighbors. We need new hearts that hold fast to what is good and abhor what is evil.
There is only one hope for redemption and that is the Gospel, the good news of the finished work of Jesus Christ, but the Gospel is two-fold. It isn’t just that Jesus came to save His people (Matthew 1:21) but that Jesus came to destroy sin (1 John 3:4-10). It isn’t just that God so loved the world (John 3:16) but that He so hated sin and suffering and death (Revelation 21:4). The Gospel isn’t only an act of divine love but also of divine justice (Romans 3:23-26).
It is when we come to faith in Christ Jesus’ finished work on our behalf that we are given new hearts, hearts of flesh for our hearts of stone (Ezekiel 36:26-27), and the process of reorienting our hearts toward genuine love begins. Another word for this process is sanctification. The entire life of a Christian is to be a life of love, but this isn’t a love we get to define in whatever way we want. It’s love defined by the God who is love. As we begin to love righteousness, we will begin to hate righteously.
Love won the moment it is finished passed from the lips of our Lord and Savior as He took his last breath on the cross. The empty tomb stands in victory over sin and death and the corrupted love that rules the human heart. The Good News isn’t that love wins; the Good News is that Jesus won! And it is this message the world so desperately needs!