Genesis’s Guide to Dealing With Hateful People
A Facebook Friend asked for people to share their favorite verse from the Bible. I don’t think I have one, but a verse popped into my mind: “And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.”
It’s there in the second chapter of the Book of Genesis. I am far from the first to suggest this, but it does seem to capture Man: You are made of dirt, and you’ve been filled with the spirit of God.
I need to be reminded of both of these from time to time. Especially the second, because it applies to other people just as much as to me, and other people sometimes look like they’re filled with another spirit.
To be reminded of the first, I go with some friends of mine to an Ash Wednesday service at Our Lady of Lourdes. I’m a Methodist, but I appreciate that service. Especially when the priest marks your forehead with a cross made of ashes and says, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you will return.” They meet at Oh dark thirty, and that is a time when you are very receptive to the dirt message.
There are times, however, when I need to be reminded of the second. This need comes from two different directions. I need to know that I have been filled with the spirit of God, and I need to be reminded that you have been filled with the spirit of God.
This is all part of the deal. I am supposed to love you. Regardless.
“And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment. And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these.”
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Here Jesus was quoting ancient Jewish teaching. In the Sermon on the Mount he pushes it further: “ “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”
In my youth, I thought this was a way He was telling us not to have enemies. It wasn’t.
You are going to have enemies. This is beyond your control. There will be people who will hold you in contempt. Some will hold your very existence in contempt. You are to love them.
But what can love mean with these people? It’s very hard to feel love for someone who hates you so much. At some point, I heard the voice of Inigo Montoya: “I don’t think that word means what you think it means.”
Love is not a feeling. It is accompanied by many feelings, but it is not a feeling. It is something beyond. It is something we can do. It is something we may choose to do, but it is like math or chess or pushups. You have to work at it.
That person in front of you. The one you disagree with; the one who is working against everything you believe in; the one who challenges you: You are to love him.
The Hard Part
As inhumanly difficult as that may be, that is the easy part. The hard part is figuring out how that love is to be manifested. Giving them their way is not necessarily the answer. Love doesn’t mean always saying “Yes.”
Quite frankly, it can’t be road-mapped out. But remembering that you must love them must be the center of it. And then means remembering God’s words, “man became a living soul.”
Bobby Neal Winters is associate dean of the college of arts and sciences and a university professor at Pittsburg State University. A native of Harden City, Oklahoma, he blogs at Red Neck Math and Okie in Exile. His last article for The Stream was a review of the movie Ford v. Ferrari.