Sunday, December 2, 2012

What is Love? It Is Opposite Both Hate and Apathy

I once proudly said, “The opposite of love is apathy, not hate.” I thought myself profound. I have come to realize love is opposed to both.

To see how this works, consider the following questions.

Is zero the opposite of infinity? Or is the opposite of infinity negative infinity? Is having nothing the opposite of being rich? Or is the opposite of rich being in great debt?

Great debt and great wealth are similar in that they both speak of vast quantities. Yet they are opposites because the one relates to my bank account in a positive way and the other in a negative way. On the other hand, great wealth and abject poverty are similar in that they both consider positive quantities. Yet they are opposites because one speaks of much and the other of little (or nothing). So, both abject poverty and great debt are opposites of great wealth, but in different ways.

So also, love is opposite and similar to hatred in a way that apathy is not. And love is opposite and similar to apathy in a way that hatred is not.

Apathy is literally to be unmoved or to have a lack of passion (from Greek α + παθος a + pathos). It is seeing the distress of the orphan and not caring. It is watching your spouse drift farther and farther away and not being moved to draw her close.

Hatred is a passion to see the ruin of an object. It rejects and flees from its object. It desires and wills evil for that on which it sets its sights. It says that my good and the object’s good are opposed to each other. It is the act of road rage. It is the burning cross illuminating the visage of a white hooded figure.

From its opposites, we can see that love involves at least two aspects: passion and good intention.

The first is passion, or being moved to act. Love is moved to act because the lover is drawn to the beloved, is moved by it, finds it compelling and valuable. It is by lacking this passion that apathy is love’s opposite. However, this is the very thing love has in common with hatred.

The second aspect of love is good intention. I do not mean by this what is commonly meant by good intentions – a lack of malice – but I mean by good intention to have the will set on that which is truly good. It is by having evil intention that hatred is love’s opposite. Love pursues that which is appropriate and good for the beloved. The lover knows the beloved and seeks to lead the beloved to its proper end, to fulfillment. Apathy may have good intentions as well, but is not moved to act on them.

Perhaps an illustration will help to summarize.. 


Love is the apex of desire and good. Hate is the apex of desire and evil. Apathy is the apex of both good intention and evil intention, but without being moved to either, and thus indifferent to both.

Thus, we can say that love is:

  • To will (or desire) the good of the beloved, and
  • To will (or desire) to be in union with the beloved

Apathy is the opposite of love because it fails to will.

Hate is the opposite of love because it wills evil and disunity.

Both desire and a good intention are needed for love. The good of the beloved becomes the good sought by the lover. And unity is the product of the two coming together in the pursuit of one good.

Practically, of course, apathy is the more likely foil to love. For love to fail, it need not substitute as its object's end pain for pleasure, failure for success, evil for good. It need only stop seeking its object's good. It need only become inactive. Love is an action. Hatred is an equal but opposite action. Apathy is friction that immobilizes both. If love is a cup of cool water for the parched soul, apathy is an empty vessel and hatred a vial of poison. Both are equally fatal.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Should I Vote for a Mormon Over a Nominal Christian?

Vote your values.

Photo courtesy of USA Today
Are you pro-life? Pro-choice? Do you think government is society’s knight in shining armor ready to win the war on poverty and discrimination? Do you, like Governor Rick Perry, think government should be made as inconsequential in your life as possible? Do you think it’s better to have a professing, if nominal, Christian in the Whitehouse or cult1 member? Do you think religion is so personal that it is inconsequential?

I have a confession to make. I have already voted for Mitt Romney, three times. Not only am I going to vote for Romney on November 6th (my early ballot is already filled out), but I have already voted for him twice in the last two Republican primaries. Yes, I picked him over John McCain and Mike Huckabee .

But Mitt is ….. a Mormon!! 

Am I not concerned that electing a Mormon as president will bring greater respect to a cult that is opposed to traditional Christianity? Yes I am. I am fully committed to exposing the false teachings of Joseph Smith's followers.

But on election day other things concern me more.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

What to Think When Christians Fall, Hard!

What should we think when a highly influential, public, outspoken defender of the faith fails to live up to the faith he professes? Should we rally behind him? Should we decry his behavior as quickly as possible? Should we distance ourselves from him?

If you’re like me, your first reaction is to face-palm. After which you begin fearing their failure will undermine your message. Finally, you start plotting to ensure you never ever wind up in their shoes. But if you’re like me, I would like to remind us both of a couple things.

Monday, October 1, 2012

National Solutions to Local Problems


“But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him.”

                                              -- from the Parable of the Good Samaritan Luke 10:33-34

Why has there been such an astounding growth in the size, power, and influence of the federal government over the last 60 years?

In short, it’s the media. But not for the reasons you think. It’s not just the alphabet channels (ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, HBO, NPR, etc.). It’s also talk radio, FOX news, You Tube and the rest of the Internet. I’m not trying to blame any liberal-big-government bias, though I believe it exists; I’m blaming the nationalization of local news, the coast-to-coast concern for small-town stories.

We have become increasingly aware of the state of the whole country and become personally involved in injustices unaddressed 2,000 miles away. We are no longer concerned merely with our local sphere of influence, with our local community. We are no longer concerned simply with the neighbors we encounter at the local store, or the school our kids attend, or the condition of the roads we happen to travel. We have become aware of the injustices visited upon Floridians, Minnesotans, Californians, Georgians (both the state and the country), Germans, Ethiopians, Iranians, etc.   We have become disconcerted at the state of the US educational system in totality, not just our kid’s school. We have become incensed about bridges in Minnesota, and bridges to nowhere.

With problems this big, we feel like we need a big force to deal with it. We the people are too little to fix the national crises of poverty or texting while driving or teen pregnancy. Even if we have never met a homosexual couple wanting to get married, we are aware of the national struggle to redefine marriage in favor of those who feel left out. Even if our taxes seem to be about right and we don’t generally run into greedy rich people not doing their part, we are aware of a story here or there from across the country that reinforces the stereotype. Our opinions are shaped by the stories that captivate the news cycle and by experts that have conducted national studies on the topic. We begin to feel inadequate not only to deal with the problems, but even to form an opinion about them based on our own little, local, limited experience. We need a bigger, better equipped force.

The big force is inevitably the federal government.

But almost all problems are local problems. Gangs and ineffective schools, drugs and greedy rich people, blight and homelessness, are all problems that belong to a particular community. These communities are made up of families and individuals that all have the power to make a difference.

And don’t trust the “experts” more than other sources of wisdom in your life. In the words of Dennis Prager,

In much of the West, the well educated have been taught to believe that they can know nothing and that they can draw no independent conclusions about truth, unless they cite a study and experts have affirmed it. Studies show is to the modern secular college graduate what Scripture says is to the religious fundamentalist.                                                                       

The difference is made locally. The difference is made by you, acting in the way you see best fit to the problem most accessible to you. The national news can make the task feel too daunting to undertake. But if we will wrest our lives from the false assurance that big brother has it handled, and if we will set our sites on making a difference where we live, we can be the change we all admit is needed.

“and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him…”

Our neighbors need us to see them, have compassion on them and go to them. No expert opinion or government decree can make up for a lack in neighborly good deeds.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Success Is Measured by Effort?!? Tell that to my boss, my God, and the lost.

2012-09-23 17.04.32

Our church meets on Sunday evenings and rents space from a more traditional church. We fit in their youth room. This *motivational* poster was proudly hidden away on the inside of the bathroom door where it could be contemplated more by girls than boys.1 The corners were pierced with many holes revealing a long history of hanging on many walls. I might expect to see it hanging at my chiropractor’s office next to a mish mash of platitudes of peace. But posted there in the children’s area of a church, it is especially disturbing.

First, the picture contradicts the printed message. All that is apparent is that the outstretched arm is about to succeed in dunking the basketball and thus scoring two points and bringing his (it looks like a manly arm) team closer to victory. I cannot see effort. For all I know, the guy is standing on a ladder, or the rim is at shoulder level.

Effort and success are related. But the one is not the measure of the other.

Effort often leads to success. More importantly, lack of effort almost never leads to success (except by blind luck). If anything, it should be said that success is the measure of effort. Though this too is not entirely accurate, it is much more true to life. We can know much about someone’s effort by observing his success.

A for effort… Great. But no report cards are issued this way. If an A is given for effort , it is usually accompanied by a D or C for success. Good try. But not good enough. Try harder next time.

There are lots of reasons effort and success don’t correlate.

  • The task could simply be too big.
  • I could be ill prepared.
  • I could be naturally too limited.
  • I could be applying my efforts inefficiently.
  • I could be fighting against God.

To succeed, by definition and by etymology, means to come after (compare to the word succession). Success is the outcome of effort. But effort alone does not guarantee success. It must be combined with prudence (or wisdom).

Consider Joshua 1:7-8 (ESV).

Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to do according to all the law that Moses my servant commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good success wherever you go.

This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.

The Hebrew word translated success in both passages (as well as the Greek word used to translate the Hebrew word in the LXX) means primarily to have or gain prudence, insight, or wisdom. By metonymy2 it means to have success or to prosper.

It is prudence that ensures:

  • I have selected an appropriate task.
  • I am adequately prepared before expending the effort.
  • It is not a task that exceeds my limitations. 3
  • I am not spinning my wheels without getting anywhere.
  • I am not kicking and screaming against providence.

Joshua is reminded that prudence comes from obeying and contemplating God’s message.

Maybe this would be a more appropriate message for the inside of a church bathroom:

Work hard so your Master will say to you,

“Well done, good and faithful servant… Enter into the joy of your master.” (Mt. 25:21 ESV)

A for effort... Try more prudently next time.

1. This is simply a statement about biology. Girls sit down more frequently in a bathroom and face the opposite wall/door than do boys.

2. Metonymy is a literary devise that substitutes the effect for the cause.

3. My failure to jump to the moon has nothing to do with lack of effort, though I have not expended any because prudence tells me it is a leap too far.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Why There’s No “Hero” in the Bible

Last night I witnessed a seemingly small act by my 8 year old daughter that may have saved her 6 year old sister’s life. Then today I read two stories of unsuspecting heroes.
The first story was of a man who crashed his Hummer into an oncoming vehicle to save the lives of 4 children in a crosswalk. He denied being a hero. He was just doing what anyone would have done.
The second story was of a bus driver who caught a 7 year autistic old girl falling from a 3rd story window. He denied being a hero. He was just doing what anyone would have done.
Think about the hero’s in your own life. Maybe it’s a neighbor who acted as a Good Samaritan. Maybe it’s a legislator who made it impossibly hard for your mother to abort you after she was raped. Maybe it’s a daughter who let you know her little sister was choking on plastic horse so you could help dislodge it before it was too late. Heroes.
But what is a hero?
Normally, I turn to the Bible to help me answer these kinds of questions, but a quick search turns up no occurrence of the word “hero” in the Bible. Interesting. But surely this is just a translational issue. If I were to look in a Bible Lexicon, I would certainly find a word that could be translated “hero”. Greek? Nope. Hebrew? Nope.*
But the Bible is full of stories of heroism, self-sacrifice, doing what’s right in the face of impossible odds and personal peril. Think about David facing Goliath or Esther standing up to to Artaxerxes, King of Persia. Think about the Jael driving a tent peg through Sisera’s temple as he slept hidden in her tent. Think about Jesus with nails through His hands and feet refusing for the sake of us poor sinners to cut short his suffering.
So, why aren’t they called heroes? Maybe they were just doing what anyone would have done. Maybe they were just doing what was required of them, what was expected. Maybe they were just doing what was right.**
They didn’t think they were heroes. Maybe the Hummer driver and the bus driver aren’t heroes. Maybe my daughter isn’t a hero. Maybe they just did what was right when it mattered most.
Maybe they were heeding the words of Jesus in Luke 17:10.
“So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’ ” (ESV)
Like the biblical and modern examples, we should not desire to be heroes, but only to do what is right in every circumstance. No matter the difficulty. No matter the consequences.
*I did a search using the Logos Bible software in BDAG and BDB for English glosses and extended definitions containing the word “hero” resulting in zero hits.
**The Bible does have a word for this kind of behavior. It’s called righteousness.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Mercy-ing: why isn’t mercy a verb (in English)?

In Romans 9:15 Paul quotes the Greek translation of Exodus 33:19 (LXX). “I [God] will have mercy on whom I have mercy and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion” (ESV)

“I will have mercy on” is a translation of the Greek verb ἐλεέω (ele-eo). But in English, we don’t have a verb form of mercy. English only has a noun form of mercy. It is a thing. We have to speak of mercy as a thing that is possessed or imparted.

What is the difference between the English idiom “to have mercy on” and the Greek ἐλεέω (to mercy)?

Treating mercy as a verb sidesteps talking about it as a character trait and instead shows it as an act. It looks at what you do rather than who you are. Now, to be fair, Greek has both forms. They can speak about it both ways. However, in English, we are cut off from speaking of mercy as an act itself. Instead, we are relegated to talking about mercy as a thing we posses and occasionally chose to show, or as a thing that we only “have” at certain times. It is thus easy for us in English to associate “showing mercy” with a mental state or an attitude. However, when we think about it as an act, “to mercy”, we are forced to think about what kinds of actions are merciful.

Like all character traits extolled in the Scriptures, they are ways of living our lives, not simply dispositions of the soul.

I challenge you to do acts of mercy today. If you’re not sure what that looks like, let’s talk about it in the comments below.