Whoever loves his brother lives in the light, and there is nothing in him to make him stumble. But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness; he does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded him. –1 John 2:10-11
Robert Frost famously wrote about two roads diverging in a yellow wood. “Sorry I could not travel both and be one traveler,” he described himself. Life is full of those sorts of forks in the roads. My long-time colleague and office-mate just took a wonderful new job within the institution. She hasn’t looked back from that decision, but she did pause on the day she signed her new contract. Before they’d let her sign on the new line, they made her resign her faculty contract. To the best of her knowledge, there’d be no going back. Similarly, as much as I would like to sell our house and move to the sticks, part of me realizes that this is a change for keeps. If we regret this move a year down the road, we’ll be facing a very grim prospect of moving again.
The two roads–the road of light and the road of darkness–that John describes in today’s verse, however, isn’t that sort of a choose-once-and-live-with-the-consequences deal. It seems to me that I can hate my brother in the morning and love my brother in the afternoon, yet that’s not what these verses seem to suggest. They don’t say “whenever” you love or hate your brother. Instead, they say “whoever” loves or hates. The other translations render it differently but never changing the meaning: “He who loves” or “The one who loves.”
This observation leads me to wonder if John sees this as truly an either-or choice. Can the one who loves a brother in the morning hate him in the afternoon? The answer to that question, it seems from the context is no, but the Greek word translated “hate” here, miseo, must be understood. The English word “hate” has experienced some semantic deflation over the years. My son says he hates Pizza Hut pizza. My daughter hates her hair. Is that the sort of miseo hatred John references? I don’t think so.
Hatred does mean irritation or frustration with. Hatred isn’t the same as “I don’t want to share a room with you” or “you’re making me really angry right now. ” Similarly, though, love is not the trivial thing that we frequently make it. The love described here, agapao, means to love dearly. I don’t love lasagna, Fridays, or even Jayhawks basketball in that profound manner.
Hopefully we do not have a problem with miseo toward our brothers (and sisters), but for many of us, our agapao could use a bit of work.