I have spent the past month basking in the glow of love. As I am sure most people who have been married can attest to, the experience of joining your life together with another, celebrating with your family and closest friends, then running away to be alone with your beloved is well-beyond description. How do you put love into words?
As the Apostle Paul struggles to find his own adjectives and verbs to express the exceedingly excellent way of love in his letter to the church at Corinth, he points out the temporality of what we would term essential. Prophesy will cease. Tongues will be stilled. Knowledge will pass away. Words as we know them, are merely tools meant to guide us through imperfection and incompletion of life as we know it. Love is the content, the completion, and the perfection of humanity, of the world, of history. And it cannot be described properly. Only experienced.
And so my past month has been a series of lessons on love experienced. Love lived. And everything seemed to be going along so smoothly, so wonderfully, so simply, almost like a dream. Then Peggy and I did something very, very dangerous. Something that is liable to upend unbroken happiness. We opened up the Psalms to pray.
As I began reading from the 109th Psalm, we both felt a sense of discomfort. Something is off, it seems, in the life of David, and he calls out to God to rescue him from slanderers. And as the prayer went on, I recognized the category of psalm we were reading. It was a so-called imprecatory psalm. This is a psalm about revenge. Leaving aside preconceptions about what is Christian and what is not, we could just as easily say that this was a psalm about hate. In a month saturated with love, here was a prayer for the destruction of enemies.
More on that psalm next post, but after we prayed through the ugliness of hate and strolled on to the beach to play and rest, I noticed something about myself. I noticed that as I gave myself over to love, I discovered a new and much more unexpected capacity- a capacity for hate.
Now, I have hated before and found myself so capable of my ill-will towards others in the past that I had a word etched into my arm to remind me that loving my enemies and praying for those who might persecute me is the way of Christ, the way of the cross. But lying on the beach that day it felt different than it had in the past. I was reminded of the hostility of David when I looked over at a man in sunglasses who seemed a bit out of place on our quiet beach. I noticed that he was facing the wrong direction.
Have you ever seen somebody at the beach whose chair is not strategically placed to look out over the water? Whose chair, instead of facing seaward, was facing your direction? This man set his chair in a strategic position to face as many sun-drenched women as he could. In the past I would have noticed such a man and perhaps would have been suspicious of his brazenness. He had come to look at women. Plain and simple. And he had no desire to mask his intentions.
And the visceral reaction I had that day made me go back to David and his troubling words. It is one thing to experience lust abstractly. It is a whole different conversation when the one you love is at stake. His lust was taking root in reality and he was stealing the joy, simplicity, and innocence of man and wife enjoying creation. He was leering at my beloved. I do not know of a better word for my feeling that day than hate.
And so I ask the question, how does love interplay with hate? Does love preclude jealousy, a desire to defend, to protect, to nourish the life of the object of that love? Does love sit by, unmoved, while the one he loved is harmed? Is love devoid of strength? Of passion? Of a desire to fight for your beloved?
And so, carefully, I approach this question, and introduce it for us to play with over the next few weeks. What is the relationship of love and hate?