This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you. There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. [John 15:12-13 (NLT)]
While every thesaurus says that hate is the opposite of love, I’m not so sure. Authors like Wilhelm Stekel, John Le Carré, Rollo May, Elie Wiesel, and George Bernard Shaw have said that indifference (or apathy) is the opposite of love. Disagreeing, Reverend Billy Graham said the opposite of love is selfishness.
Hate, apathy, or selfishness? Since apathy is lack of concern or interest in anything and selfishness is lack of concern or interest in anything but oneself, I thought back to Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan. Although its purpose was to define the identity of one’s “neighbor” to the lawyer who asked, the parable also illustrates what it means to love.
Let’s start with the bandits. They probably didn’t hate the man they attacked and, had they simply been indifferent to him, they would have ignored him. While they weren’t interested in his well-being, they were very interested his property and they wanted it. Rather than hate or apathy, it was selfishness that made them take everything the man possessed. Their self-centered attitude was “What’s yours is mine, and I’ll take it!”
We then come to the priest and Levite. We have no reason to suspect they knew the victim and hated him. But, had they truly been disinterested, the priest wouldn’t have crossed to the other side of the road upon seeing the wounded man nor would the Levite deliberately have walked over to look at him. Both men took an interest in the wounded man and then deliberately chose to ignore him. Rather than hate-filled or apathetic, they refused to help the man out of selfishness. More concerned about themselves and their journey than the welfare of a dying man along the side of the road, their self-centered attitude was, “What’s mine is mine, and I’m going to keep it.”
Then we come to the Samaritan. As a Samaritan, he certainly had reason to hate the Jewish victim, but he didn’t. Rather than being indifferent to the man’s condition or selfish with his time and resources, he was generous. His philosophy was that of love: “What’s mine is yours and I will share it.”
When thinking of hate or even apathy as the opposite of love, like the priest and Levite, we can tell ourselves that, as long as we didn’t hurt someone, we obeyed the command to love. But, when we think of selfishness as the opposite of love, far more is asked of us. No longer passive, love demands more than simply not hating or harming someone. Love requires effort; it is a giving up of self and a giving of self to another.
After writing that selfishness was the opposite of love, Billy Graham asked, “Will you ask the Holy Spirit to free your life from selfishness and fill you instead with His love?” Will you?
The first question which the priest and the Levite asked was: “If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?” but the good Samaritan reversed the question: “If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?” [Martin Luther King, Jr.]