Thursday, March 19, 2015

Hating One's Life

I wonder whether Jesus' parents forbade him from saying the word "hate" when he was a child. Like "stupid" and "shut-up," the word "hate" is a perfectly acceptable word that we have forbidden our children from saying because they haven't learned how to use it. When a five-year-old bandies words like that around, his three-year-old brother gets his feelings hurt. And their father gets in trouble for describing something that is genuinely stupid as just that--stupid.

The point is that I wonder whether Jesus was being as provocative in John 12 as he sounds in the twenty-first century: "Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life." What does it mean to hate one's life? What Is Jesus really asking us to do? Is he trying to prove a point, or is he really asking us to loathe the life we're given?

For starters, let's remember that human life is a good thing--otherwise God would not have taken it on in the incarnation in order to redeem it. The incarnation proves that Christianity is not an escapist religion. We are not called to shed our human nature so that we might become some sort of semi-divine being. God redeems our human nature by becoming human. So life itself is valuable. This is not some suicide cult.

So what, then, does it mean to hate one's life? I do believe that Jesus was being provocative, but I don't think he was speaking hyperbolically. He means hate our life. Remember, the one who is speaking is on his way to the cross, where he will give up this life in a dramatic, painful, terrifying way. And he is calling his disciples to follow him--even to death.

No, God is not calling us to be petulant teenagers--the kind who say, "Oh, Mom, I hate my life!" in that super-melodramatic way. Instead, God is asking us to give it up and not just let it go. No, we don't throw our life away, but we happily, readily, eagerly turn it over the way a kid tosses his broccoli in the trash when his parents aren't looking. Maybe I'm skating a fine line, but I think Jesus was, too. We need to take his words seriously or else the call to sacrifice is only an image. The death Jesus died is more than metaphor, and the sacrifice we are called to make is, too.

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