A modern theologian has pointed out that the opposite of love is not hate but indifference. The writer contends that hate, as terrible as it is, at least acknowledges that its antagonist is a person, while indifference turns its neighbor into a thing.
Since reading that statement I have come to the conclusion that this has validity, and it can be demonstrated in a number of relationships.
I visited in a nursing home recently. It always takes about twice the time allotted. When I visit older people in nursing or care facilities the saddest things I see is not their material need or growing infirmity. It is instead the feeling of many that they are neglected or ignored by those who should be most attentive.
Sometimes their children, now grown and busy with other activities, seldom write, call, or visit. To hear the voice is good, and a letter or card is something which can be read again and again. A visit is a physical presence and makes possible the communication of sight and touch.
The children may claim they are too busy (and indeed many are involved), but there is always time for favorite television programs or social activities. The real problem is failure in structuring priorities, and often callous indifference.
In the closer family similar things can occur. Perhaps husband and wife are both employed and the evenings are spent in television or work, with mealtimes hurried and the individuals centering on self.
The bloom of love, the most beautiful blossom in life’s garden, is most often seared by the blight of neglect.
This thought can be carried into other arenas of interpersonal relationships.
You do not have to hate the poor, the racially different, or the socially disadvantaged in order to continue their status and pain. You can merely ignore them.
In the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-37) the Priest and the Levite did not hate the victim of the robbers. Under no circumstance would they have done him physical harm. They merely refused to see him, and they passed by on the other side of the road. And they failed to minister to the wounded person.
This attitude can be carried into many of our social and institutional relationships.
To destroy a nation it is not necessary for some foreign power to invade or some revolutionary group to overthrow. All that is needed, as it evinced in the fall of the Roman Empire, is for citizens to forget the dream and major on selfish and carnal things.
This is true of the church. The church has always grown stronger in time of difficulty and persecution. It grows weaker when its members lack commitment and express this through spasmodic participation, meager contributions and indifference.
It is all right if people agree with me or disagree with me, but I am most distressed when they ignore me. I had rather have an honest enemy than a false friend. The opposite of love is not hate, but indifference.
Perhaps this is what Jesus was talking about when he said, “Be either hot or cold for if you are lukewarm I will spew you out of my mouth.”
Dr. Fred Andrea is the pastor of Aiken’s First Baptist Church.