The first response that matters in the face of hatred, anger, evil and all else that seeks to destroy and tear down is the one within us, Lear says. (Photo: ardfem / Wikimedia Commons)
Hate has been bothering me lately.
Not, I hasten to add, because I am feeling hated, and not because I hate someone else.
I was reading some comments online from someone I don't know but whom I respect about the level of negative, critical, judgmental, cruel and rude comments they were receiving. It was horrible.
And to make things worse, the comments were from people who said they were Christians.
It led me to post two Tweets:
"It breaks my heart when I read judgmental comments online from people who follow Jesus. He was so inclusive of all. #unconditionallove."
"Jesus welcomed and loved everyone (even the self-righteous religious people whom he called 'hypocrites'). #unconditionallove #followers."
I am acutely aware that by posting these Tweets I may well be guilty of judging too. But I feel a little bit justified because I am not naming and shaming someone. It's not trolling.
And as a note of self-restraint, I recognize that therein lies the beginning of the thought process that can lead someone to feel justified in writing and posting horrible things about someone else with whom they disagree.
Can't we learn to disagree well?
These tweets got an interesting and encouraging range of responses.
I was getting ready for a lively discussion, then, at 10:33 p.m. Monday, May 22, hate took on a hideous and heinous new form when a suicide bomber killed 22 and injured hundreds at the end of a concert at the Manchester Arena.
The act in itself is barbaric, but to deliberately do it at a time and a place where you know that young people will be present adds an evil twist to an already evil act.
My initial response was stunned silence. I could not find the words to express how I felt.
The tears that kept welling up in my eyes and the lump in my throat were the most eloquent expression I had.
Later on, I found myself reflecting on the hate that had been expressed. I thought about Martin Luther King Jr.'s words: "Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that."
These words appeared all over social media. They are deep, profound, defiant words that also express truth.
So I let them lead me into a personal prayer:
"You cannot stop hatred with more hatred. You cannot prevent darkness with more darkness.
"You cannot reduce pain with more pain. You cannot defuse anger with more anger.
"You cannot defeat injustice with more injustice. You cannot reduce outrage with more outrage.
"So I resolve afresh to pray for love, light, healing, peace, justice and grace in myself that I might share it with others."
You see, the first response that matters in the face of hatred, anger, evil and all else that seeks to destroy and tear down is the one within us.
We can add to them, or we can diminish them. We can give them energy or we can starve them of life.
In some ways, it's counterintuitive - it goes against the self-preservation instinct within us all. It is selfless, it is generous, it is loving. I believe it's a glimpse of God.
We saw it in action following the terrorist attack in Manchester:
- The homeless man who ran into the arena foyer against the flow of people seeking to escape the carnage - to see if he could help the injured and comfort the dying.
- The taxi drivers who took people home at no charge.
- The people who opened their homes to strangers who were bewildered and didn't know how they would get home that night.
- The emergency services who had to deal with the carnage with dignity and professionalism.
- The hospital staff who turned up for extra shifts.
- The many people who gave blood for the first time.
- People who brought lunches and cups of tea for the overburdened hospital staff who had no time to stop.
And so much more.
Hate is an acidic, corrosive, ugly word. It's an even worse emotion. And as an action it is beyond appalling.
But it does not win when love rises up in our hearts. Love wins. Love wins.
Nick Lear is a regional minister of the Eastern Baptist Association in the United Kingdom. A version of this article first appeared on his blog, Nukelear Fishing, and is used with permission. You can follow him on Twitter @NickLear.