Following Jesus means learning to say both ‘Yes’ and ‘No’

yes noOver the years, I’ve learnt to be grateful – really grateful – for anyone who helps me to take more seriously what it means to follow Jesus. And part of what I’ve learnt – and need to keep learning – is that to follow Jesus means not only learning to say ‘Yes’ but also learning to say ‘No’; not only learning to say ‘I love’ but also learning to say, with equal discipline, ‘I hate’. Yes, I agree, ‘hate’ is a word that ought be used sparingly. And yes, I believe that Martin Luther King, Jr. was right to insist that only love can drive out hate, and that Frederick Buechner is spot on to observe that pure ‘haters simply lose themselves’. But ‘hate’ is not, for these reasons, a word that ought to be completely outlawed or which is out of place in faithful and loving speech. In fact, sometimes it’s quite the opposite. So, for example, it’s because I love my partner that I hate all that threatens to diminish our relationship. It’s because God loves marriage that God hates divorce (Mal 2.16; and, yes, I know that there are alternative renderings of this verse).

But back to ‘Yes’ and ‘No’. The Barmen Confession, more explicitly than perhaps any other Reformed confession, reminds us that genuine confession of faith is always both an affirmation of truth and a denial of untruth. Elsewhere, Barmen’s chief author put it thus: ‘If the Yes does not in some way contain the No, it will not be the Yes of a confession … If we have not the confidence to say damnamus [what we refuse], then we might as well omit the credimus [what we believe]’ (CD I/2, 631, 630). Of course, that there is a ‘Yes’ and a ‘No’ to be said (and acted upon) doesn’t rusticate the ‘Maybes’. But that there are not only Maybes means that to be a response-able human being is to live other than on a fence. Luther’s famous ‘Here I stand’ speech comes to mind here, as does Kierkegaard’s Abraham. And so, for example, it’s because I want to say ‘Yes’ to the Father whose face is made available to me in Jesus Christ that I must say ‘No’ to those church liturgies which replace/mimic the triune name with a set of functions. (Isn’t it a no brainer? God has a name. God went to a lot of trouble to tell us that name. So use it!) It’s because I want to say ‘Yes’ to Christ that I must say ‘No’ to Caesar. It’s because I want to say ‘Yes’ to the ploughshare that I must say ‘No’ to the sword. It’s because I want to say ‘Yes’ to life that I must say ‘No’ to life’s enemies. It’s because I want to say ‘Yes’ to personhood that I must say ‘No’ to individualism. It’s because I want to say ‘Yes’ to prayer that I must say ‘No’ to distraction. It’s because I want to say ‘Yes’ to faithful tellings of the gospel that I must say ‘No’ to the way that the likes of John Piper and Mark Driscoll sometimes spout theological bullshit in the name of Christian truth (and ‘No’ to the way that so-called Christian publishers profit from their verbiage).

So back to ‘Hate’. While those who live in – and so are formed by – Facebookland are dis-encouraged to feel so strongly about anything that they should ‘hate’ it, or even ‘dislike’ it, human beings are not called to live lives constituted by Mark Zuckerberg but by the event of God’s decision to be human among us, an event that calls everything into question. Some of those questions will be met by a ‘Yes’ and others by a ‘No’, some by a ‘Love’ and others by a ‘Hate’. And I was reminded of this recently when watching this wee clip of Uncle Stanley (who is one of those who has helped me to take more seriously what it means to follow Jesus) talking about the things that he hates.

Why should we love our enemies?

Why should we love our enemies? The first reason is pretty obvious. Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction. So when Jesus says “Love your enemies” [Matt. 5:44], he is setting forth a profound and ultimately inescapable admonition. Have we not come to such an impasse in the modern world that we must love our enemies – or else? The chain reaction of evil – hate begetting hate, wars producing more wars – must be broken, or we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of annihilation’. – Martin Luther King Jnr, Strength to Love (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1977), 53.

Frederick Buechner on hate and love

love hateApologies to those who may be getting tired of the Buechner citations (you can blame Jim for planting this seed), but I’m finding his writing alluring. Here he is on hate and love:

‘Hate is as all-absorbing as love, as irrational, and in its own way as satisfying. As lovers thrive on the presence of the beloved, haters revel in encounters with the one they hate. They confirm him in all his darkest suspicions. They add fuel to all his most burning animosities. The anticipation of them makes the hating heart pound. The memory of them can be as sweet as young love. The major difference between hating and loving is perhaps that whereas to love somebody is to be fulfilled and enriched by the experience, to hate somebody is to be diminished and drained by it. Lovers, by losing themselves in their loving, find themselves, become themselves. Haters simply lose themselves. Theirs is the ultimately consuming passion’. – Frederick Buechner, Whistling in the Dark: An ABC Theologized (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1988), 57.