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If your overall experience of humanity so far has been positive, then you’re probably not feeling too bothered by God’s command that we love others. And with the Church constantly promoting people as more important than God, it’s going to make you feel a lot more comfortable on Sunday morning if you aren’t harboring a deep hatred for your fellow humans in your soul. When the pastor starts expounding on the importance of loving our neighbors, you can say to yourself, “No sweat, I like people.” Yes, you do. But your main reason for liking them is that they’ve been pretty decent to you. Your “love” for people is based on the fact that they have been doing a decent job of meeting your personal expectations so far. Well, this isn’t love, this is approval. When you say “I like people,” what you really mean is, “I approve of people.” Should those people who you currently approve of do something awful to you, all of a sudden your attitude towards them would change drastically.
In this post, we’re talking to those of you who really don’t like people. Maybe you hardcore hate them. What is your repulsion based on? Well, you’re using the same standards as the folks who claim to love their fellow humans: you’re focused on approval. In your case, you feel that your overall experience of humans is very negative. Maybe you used to like them until some of them really went out of their way to trash you. Or maybe you’ve hated people ever since the beginning because they’ve never been anything but nasty to you. Either way, here you are, hating people. So now what?
Can you still please God if you hate people? Of course you can. We please God by submitting to His maturity program for our lives. God does want us to love others, but He takes His sweet time in getting us there. If you’re bothered by your current hatred of other humans, that’s actually a good thing. When we’re feeling convicted that we’re not where we need to be, we can be a lot more receptive to learning new perspectives, and education is a huge part of the maturation process. Forget about guilt trips and striving—you can’t pull real love for people out of the air. This is an attitude which God has to develop within you, and He will if you are cooperating with Him. How fast He moves you down the love track depends on what His personal priorities are for you. There might be many other issues which God wants to work on with you first—issues which He feels are more important than you developing some gracious attitude towards your fellow humans. So while the Church wants to heap guilt on your head for not conforming to her “one size fits all” growth program, God wants you to let Him decide what order He wants to grow you in and stop trying to choose His priorities for Him. Maybe He’s going to have you stay in hate mode for years to come. Maybe He has you on the cusp of a major love breakthrough. As long as your bottom line attitude is, “Lord, make me all that You want me to be,” He’s going to be very pleased with you regardless of how you view other people. So as we dig into this issue, let’s remember that each growth path is unique and that we’re not in competition with each other. You need to focus on what God is telling you, and be willing to submit to His definition of “on schedule.” Often we feel like we ought to be farther down the road than we are, but our opinions aren’t the ones that matter. As long as God is pleased, we’re in a good place, and God is much easier to please than we are.
REAL LOVE ACCEPTS THE WHOLE PERSON
So when God tells us to love each other, what is He talking about? Real love is about acceptance, not approval. Real love accepts the whole messy package that is another human being, and every human being is a mess. Real love is not devoid of moral standards. Real love doesn’t say, “I think it’s great that you molest kids.” But real love does say, “I know that you molest kids, and I accept you anyway.” Real love is not without boundaries. Real love does not say, “I’m going to stand here and let you beat on me.” Instead, real love says, “I’m going to put physical distance between you and me because you’re not respecting me, but even though you have wronged me, I still accept you.” Real love not only accepts a person, it sincerely wants that person to thrive. We humans will thrive only when we are living in alignment with our Creators, thus real love cares most about the spiritual well-being of its target.
Think about the negative feelings you have towards the human race. Are you dealing with a general hatred for the whole group, or are there certain subgroups who you find particularly loathsome? Whenever we find ourselves hating people who we haven’t even met, that’s a result of us making a bunch of negative assumptions about them based on our experiences of a few bad apples. For example, Carrie had a father, brother, and uncle who constantly mocked her for being a woman. Carrie now feels a general hatred for all men. In her mind, if you’re a guy, you must be a chauvinistic jerk. Is this fair? No, it’s an absurdly unreasonable stereotype based on Carrie’s personal experience with three men who really hurt her feelings when she was young. Now did Carrie’s father, brother, and uncle do anything more with their lives besides make condescending cracks at her? Of course they did. All human beings are extremely complex, yet when we go into hate mode, we frequently oversimplify the targets of our hate. Carrie views her father, brother, and uncle as “women haters.” This is a ridiculous oversimplification of who those three individuals are, but this is how she chooses to see it. When humans are strongly impacted by each other, they quickly leap into this kind of thinking. For example, Jack saves Shawn’s life on the highway. From that day forward, Shawn idolizes Jack as a heroic, selfless individual. This puts Jack in an awkward position, because he has plenty of negative qualities, and he isn’t anywhere close to selfless. Jack was very stressed the day he met Shawn, and he behaved in a way that was very atypical for him when he snatched Shawn out of the path of an oncoming semi. But Shawn doesn’t want to hear about any of this, because Shawn wants to see Jack in a very simple way. Jack is the all-good hero to Shawn. All men are women haters to Carrie. This is how narrowly we humans think, and such a mindset doesn’t not leave room for any real love to grow because real love is an acceptance of the whole person.
REAL LOVE IS FLEXIBLE
People are messy. They’re not all good, and they’re not all bad—they’re a complex blend of positive and negative traits. People are also in a constant state of change. Who they are today isn’t who they’re going to be tomorrow, next month, or in a year. Because real love accepts people as they actually are, and because who people are is constantly changing, real love is a fluid, flexible thing. Real love doesn’t freeze people in time and say, “I will only love who you were on the day I married you. But if you deviate from that, I will hate you.” Let’s be honest: this isn’t a natural way for us humans to think. We’re constantly freezing each other in time, or else we’re forming rigid expectations that we demand that others live up to. We say that if Fred is a pastor, he must be patient, kind, knowledgeable, gracious, and always taking the moral high road. When Fred is caught making out with his secretary, we blast him with instant hate because he has failed our rigid expectations of him. Fred can’t get away with adultery like the boss we work for at our non-Christian company, because Fred is a pastor and pastors aren’t allowed to be humans. This is often how we think.
Now let’s be clear: real love has boundaries. If Pastor Fred really is making out with his secretary, then Fred needs to step out of his leadership role, because he’s currently not able to be a good model for the flock. But when real love draws boundaries, it does not also cut its target off from access to real love. Real love says to Fred, “What you’re doing is wrong, and you are clearly in a crisis that you need to work out with God. But I still accept you and I still see great potential in you. I am still for you and I encourage you to pursue God’s best plan for your life.”
REAL LOVE VALUES THE SOUL
Real love is unique in that is focused on the soul instead of the earthsuit. What passes for love in this world is a shallow attraction to someone’s external looks, features, talents, and behavior. Well, this is like judging the worth of a person by the kind of car he drives. If the car is all dinged up, you say, “I don’t see any value in that person.” If the car is all shiny, polished, and stylish, then you say, “Wow, that person attracts me. I want to know him better.” What are the human equivalents of shiny cars? People with beautiful external features, people who are very smart, people who are very talented. These are the folks that attract lots of friends, fans, and fame. Meanwhile, the dinged up beater cars are the convicts, the addicts, the crippled, the ugly, and the folks who are acting out their depraved desires in very public ways. Well, real love doesn’t assess the value of people by externals—it looks deeper and sees the soul inside. But wait—how does that work when we can’t really see the souls of other people? Here’s where we come to the most important point of all: God is the Source of real love.
REAL LOVE COMES FROM GOD
Real love isn’t something that wells up within you. It’s something that God conveys to you. Real love comes down to you looking at another human, hearing God whisper His view of that person to your soul, and then choosing to align with His view. Because God loves us as we actually are, His view of humans is far more positive than ours. As the Creator of humans, God sees vast beauty and potential in every soul. He is not blinded with biases and prejudices like we are. Because He doesn’t need anything from people, He doesn’t measure their value based on how well they satisfy His needs. Because your father failed to be the father that you needed him to be, you hate him and refuse to accept him. You are assessing the worth of your father based on how well he satisfied your own self-centered needs. This kind of thinking comes quite naturally for us humans, and we all do it, which is why we are swiftest to hate the people who personally hurt us in life. Your wife cheated on you. Your priest molested you. Your dad beat you up. You see, it’s all about you in life: what you want, what you need, and what you expect. Those who fall short of your demands in these areas are moved to the “unlovable” category in your mind, and you feel quite justified in hating them because, well, it’s all about you. This is the mentality we all start off in, and this is the mentality that most of us remain in for our whole lives.
It’s because we’re all so self-absorbed that we find it so obnoxious for anyone to suggest that we should love those who we consider to be unlovable. People don’t get moved into your mental reject pile by accident—as far as you’re concerned, they’ve done something to deserve being there, and you resent the suggestion that they should be re-evaluated, for this is the same as saying your personal evaluation system is lousy. Well, it is lousy, and it simply doesn’t work. Because by the time you judge the world by your standards, and Jane judges the world by hers, and Rick judges the world by his, we’re all using different standards and we’re guaranteed to endlessly fight and knife each other. God’s system is much better because He calls us all to abandon our personal judgment systems and switch over to His. Once we leave the judging to God and focus on simply accepting the evaluations He passes down to us, suddenly we start doing a whole lot less knifing, fighting, and shunning. Suddenly we’re all working off of the same evaluation system, we’re a whole lot more synchronized, and we’re viewing each other in a far more positive light than we were before.
God says that He sees great potential in every human. God says that no one is beyond redemption until He personally gives up on them, and He is a whole lot more patient than we are. The more we listen to God, the more we are forced to move names out of our mental “unlovable” category until the whole category is empty. Then we end up chucking the whole concept of an unlovable human into the trash because we realize that it’s simply invalid. Every human can be loved: God proves this to us by His incredibly enthusiastic acceptance of each soul and His desire for us all to thrive in His care.
Now of course God’s love has boundaries, and if we defy Him long enough, He will end up eternally damning us. But no one loves like God loves. No one comes anywhere close to seeing the immense beauty and potential in humans that He does. Once He helps us get on His love page, we start seeing humanity like we never saw it before. Suddenly the most repulsive person becomes full of potential in our eyes. Suddenly confessions of vulgar desires and heinous activities stop shocking us. God’s incredibly positive view of His own creatures becomes like blinding sunlight in our eyes: sure, we see the flaws, but who even cares? No matter how messed up someone is today, we know without a doubt that they can become someone beautiful in the hands of God. It is the great potential of souls that stands out to us, not their past failings or current struggles. When we are embracing God’s assessment of others, that elusive love which we used to strain and strive to cultivate suddenly becomes an automatic thing. It flows through us like water in a faucet—we don’t have to struggle to drag it out of ourselves. It is an effortless, automatic thing. When someone sticks it to us, perhaps we are temporarily sidetracked by a focus on behavior. But we only need to stop and refocus on God to get back into alignment with His view of the one who hurt us. Suddenly no one is beyond forgiveness, and no one is beyond hope. Such is the place that God gets us to when He teaches us how to align with His love of humans. But as we said at the beginning of this post, this is not a mindset we can grab for ourselves like a man who plucks an apple off of a tree. This is a mindset that God has to lead us into, and He does so in stages.
CLOSING IN ON LOVE
Spiritual growth is filled with ironies. Often the path to becoming aligned with God’s enthusiastic view of humans involves going through a period of intensely hating them. By getting a good faceful of how limited, fickle, shallow, miserly, hypocritical, and self-absorbed our own sad attempt at loving is, we end up being spared the colossal mistake of thinking that we are capable of manufacturing real love in our own strength. You can apply this same principle to any of the famous qualities of righteousness that Christians strive for. Mercy, patience, grace, compassion, humility—we attain the purest forms of these things only after God forces us to drown in their polar opposites. If you really want to get your hands on compassion, then God will turn you into a vicious little judge who is condemning everyone for everything. Then He’ll open your eyes to grasp the fine fix you’d be in if you were to be a victim of your own judgments and suddenly you’ll realize what a raging hypocrite you’ve been for condemning the world for things that you’ve done yourself a thousand times over. If you want to gain true humility, then God will take you on a tour through the land of self-exaltation, and in the midst of people gushing over you, He’ll show you what an underserving pile of carnality you really are. Suddenly you’ll stop struggling to deflect the glory away from yourself, because you’ll grasp on deep levels how unworthy you really are of any applause.
You simply can’t imitate God’s teaching style. He is the only One who has the power, wisdom, and skill to drive new perspectives deep into the cores of our beings. He is the only One who can reach inside our souls and alter the very way that we perceive Him, ourselves, and the world around us. When we chase after certain spiritual qualities apart from God’s timing, we’re just wasting time and energy. No amount of schooling, Bible studying, church attending, or claiming will get God to align with your agenda in life. He has already decided what order He wants to mature you in, and He’s not going to shuffle things around because you’re in a hurry to impress some group of folks or shed some embarrassing flaw. If you want to experience God’s best, you need to entirely surrender yourself to His personalized program for you, and let Him cultivate you in the way that He says is best. And while you’re waiting for Him to refine you, realize that He’s still in the process of refining everyone else, and plenty of folks just aren’t willing to cooperate with His methods. This means that expecting others to love you the way God loves you is a totally unreasonable expectation which will never be met. In life, we can save ourselves a whole lot of grief by learning to lower our expectations.
As we’ve been describing in this post, the natural way that people respond to each other just doesn’t leave room for real love to flow. We demand, judge, and condemn with great swiftness and rigidity. Waiting for the entire human race to improve is a waste of time. People have been depraved little things from the beginning, and they will remain so as long as this planet is in motion. The secret to getting freed up from the personal misery of lugging around a bunch of hostile feelings is to turn the focus onto God and to ask Him to make you all that He wants you to be. Then allow time for Him to work, and you will be amazed at the changes He’ll make in you.
Understanding the Love of God: The Five Versions of You
Dealing with Sinners
Choosing the Right Priorities: How does God want us to treat our brothers?
Yearning for More Spiritual Fruits: Wrong Focus, Wrong Priorities