When I hear someone preaching on how important it is to love the people around us, my typical response is to do a quick mental inventory: Is there anyone I hate? I run through the usual suspects – mortal enemies and the like – and I can’t think of any. Then I run through the people I’ve had issues with in the past – those who have lied to me, cheated me, and so on – and I recognize that I don’t like those people exactly, but I don’t hate them, either, so while I could certainly do a better job of loving them, I’m not completely unloving toward them. I finish my mental inventory and then pat myself on the back, because I’m a pretty loving guy overall.
But do you see what I unintentionally did there? The question was about loving, but I twisted it into a question about not hating. I answered as if loving a person were the same as not hating them. I’m not so sure, though, that those are the correct opposites. Elie Wiesel, a Jewish Holocaust survivor and eventual Nobel Peace Prize winner, had this to say about love:
The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference…. And the opposite of life is not death, it’s indifference…. To be in the window and watch people being sent to concentration camps or being attacked in the street and do nothing, that’s being dead.
(US News & World Report, 27 October 1986)
I wonder if those people who watched from the windows as Elie was led to Auschwitz had tears in their eyes as he passed. I wonder if some of them placed their hands over their hearts in solidarity with Elie.
If they did, I don’t think it made any difference to him. Their internal mourning and anguish were still indifference because they didn’t act.
If we want to love as Christ loved, we cannot sit back and watch as people are put into literal or metaphorical concentration camps. We cannot passively endure internal anguish at the suffering of our fellow humans – if all we do is write Facebook posts, tweets, and blogs in solidarity, we are as indifferent as the people watching from the windows. And I am writing to myself here.
The model for our love literally submitted himself to the humiliation and death of the cross, so what can we do to demonstrate that same love for our suffering siblings?
If you have ideas or resources for what we can do, please add them in the comments.