Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness. –1 John 2:9
I ran into Walt at Sam’s Club not too long after he left our church. At that point in history, a good number of folks left our church. Life–church life, especially–could be funny if it weren’t so terrible at times. Many of those who left were and are my friends. Walt’s a little different story.
“How are you?” I asked.
“Pretty good,” he responded. We made another comment or two about the weather or kids or somesuch, but without the slightest lead-in, without any provocation, Walt apparently felt constrained to start lambasting the church, the pastor, and (by a reasonable assumption) the people who had not followed him out the door. His words were not the carefully considered words of a couple of friends. These people, in hushed tones, indicating deep contemplation on the matter, indicated, “We just couldn’t stay there anymore.” I respect those people. I disagree with their conclusion, but I respect them. Walt, however, was just ugly.
John isn’t exactly commanding us to love each other in this verse. He’s instead holding up love for each other as a litmus test for whether we walk in the light or not. Most people can’t fake love very effectively, at least not all the time. Even when you can fake it externally, you know when you’re filled with hate.
I don’t believe that John insists that we never grow irritated with our brothers. After all, the church in the first century probably had its fair share of oddballs and difficult personalities, just like the church in the twenty-first century. There’s a difference between avoiding a person and hating them. There’s a difference between saying something unkind on the spur of the moment and acting unkind through and through. Those first actions simply illustrate our human frailty, while the latter ones betray a lack of love.
I don’t have a Geiger counter that lets me know whether someone walks in spiritual darkness or light, but I do have the words of John to suggest that Walt is not walking where he thinks he’s walking. What bothers me, however, is not the bitter life Walt is leading but the casual attitude I take when I walk on the shady side of the street. Hopefully like you, I’m never utterly consumed with hate. I’m pretty sure I walk in the light, but there are far too many times when I allow myself to dip into the shadows of hatred. It’s a bad neighborhood to be avoided.