Over the course of thousands of years, the Bible has been used to justify the murder of millions. Bible verses have been used to vilify the behaviors of sadists and sociopaths. Entire races persecuted in ways that are hard to fathom. Atrocities carried out all because “the Bible tells me so.”
With the power of social media, we are more aware of this evil than ever before, and yet so many still act in ways that spread pathogens of hate, corruption, and deceit . . . all in the name of a loving God. This epidemic is as strong now as ever.
Justifying hate should break our hearts.
Situations where scripture has been taken out of context and used to justify terrible behaviors plague our histories. In the days of slavery, people used scripture to justify the ownership of other humans, men have used scripture to explain away the subjugation of women, white supremacists have been twisting scripture to give credence to their hate-filled rhetoric and behaviors for years, and hate crimes against alternative lifestyles have been called “God’s judgment” by the Christian far right. The list continues with lynchings, the bloody crusades, the mass murder of Native Americans, genocide in Rwanda, child abuse, and the Spanish Inquisition.
Most recently, a political leader perverted scripture to justify “following the law” by taking it completely out of context (the scripture was referencing the payment of government taxes, not abuse and trauma willingly thrust upon helpless children).
It’s heartbreaking—all of it. Any act that inflicts pain, fear, or misery on another human being is heartbreaking and there is no way any follower of a loving God, who believes in the life, love, and words of Jesus should defend such behaviors. And yet many of us claiming to be Christians find ourselves doing just that. We often allow our emotions, beliefs, and preconceived notions to drive our decisions.
What’s the extent of the greatest commandment?
Any act done in “the name of God” where physical or emotional pain is utilized as tools, fear is perpetuated, or hate is “justified” is not God-breathed, regardless of the scripture quoted or context used. Jesus made this very clear in a few short sentences when a Pharisee tested His understanding of scripture. The words Jesus used in Matthew 22 completely turned the religious world upside down.
“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
The two greatest commandments according to Jesus are simple!
That’s it . . .
Or is it?
These are wonderful words to live by, but to end reading this passage here would do a disservice to the intention of Jesus’ words.
In verse 40, Jesus continues, “On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets.”
This is a statement with far-reaching implications. Experts point to this passage as referencing all the teachings of the Bible.
All, not just some. This includes the ones used to justify judgment of our neighbor, the ones we use to make ourselves feel better about our hate-filled rhetoric toward other religions or people who live their lives differently than us. This includes scripture used to justify slavery or the elevation of one person to a higher status than another.
Every passage, every teaching, every prophet, and every law should be examined and applied through a lens of loving God and loving others.
Every bit of scripture must be measured against Jesus’ words, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.”
This even includes the scripture used in the claims of Mr. Sessions “justifying” the horrors of immigrant separation.
This disease of hate runs deep in our nation’s bones; it’s permeated our psyche and can be found everywhere. From water coolers to coffee shops and pulpits to political rallies, hate is often in the driver’s seat on both side of any issue, creating deeper and wider lines of separation. And Jesus’ two simple commands are the only things that will remedy this epidemic.
The Implications of the Lens of Love
So how do we live out these commands? What does loving God and loving others look like? If we return to Jesus’s teachings in Matthew 25:34–40, we get a pretty clear picture of love as God intended.
Feed the hungry. Give drink to the thirsty. Welcome the stranger. Clothe the naked. Visit the sick and the imprisoned.
When we do these things, we are not only loving those around us, we are actively displaying our love for God.
But so often, we get wrapped up in sides and miss the opportunity to love. We spend so much time focused on the “what abouts”: “What about the way others have treated us?” “What about the ‘right’ or the ‘left’?” “What about the wrongs of past administrations?” “What about what ‘he’ or ‘she’ said?”
These are just distractions from the real problem, distractions that divert our focus from the darkness lurking in the hearts of man. A darkness that allows people to turn a blind eye to the pain and suffering of others or, worse yet, inflict pain and suffering on others, all while “justifying” a gospel of hate by twisting a gospel of love.
How do we move forward when the evil we face seems so strong, so pervasive, so relentless?
Each day we challenge ourselves by asking a few questions: Are my actions motivated by love? Are the things I choose to support motivated by love? Is the life I’m living motivated by love?
Jesus’ teachings have profound implications. To be a Christian is to follow these teachings, using them as a compass for each decision we make, for the actions we choose to support. A compass whose true north is defined by loving God and loving others, no exceptions.
Cover image by John Shnobrich.