Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.
– 1 John 4: 7-12
It is easy to feel angry and alienated in America today. Many of us don’t know our neighbors. We are deeply divided in our attitudes about religious faith, the role of government and the ideal family structure. Our political climate is toxic. And while not all of us sit before our Twitter feeds eagerly awaiting the next opportunity to condemn someone’s abuse of privilege, most of us are all too familiar with the thrill that comes with self-righteously condemning someone who disagrees with us or who has offended us in some way.
This attitude of eagerly taking offense has become an integral part of the Babylon mindset, and for good reason. Our post-modern perspective values personal experience over argumentation. Call-out culture makes a virtue out of publicly shaming putative bigots, while its 4chan analogue derides the “social justice warriors” and “liberal snowflakes” who cry foul at anything they judge to be neoliberal or neocolonial or any other crime listed on the ever-growing list of “thou shalt nots”. Even on issues as nuanced and important as abortion, free speech, gun control and the like, it can be almost impossible, in this partisan atmosphere, to get people to admit that there are complexities to resolve. Instead, many seem to prefer to hurl insults and insinuations or to congratulate themselves on their own supposed wisdom.
As poorly as this attitude of closed-minded self-righteousness serves us in the political sphere – and, judging by the gridlock in Congress, it serves us terribly – it serves us even worse in the spiritual one. Our eagerness to identify wrongdoing by others and punish them for it often approaches bloodlust, perverting the call to seek justice that echoes through the words of the prophets. It is the polar opposite of the love that bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. It is a rejection of the submission that acknowledges that vengeance belongs to God alone.
Jesus did not hesitate to name oppression. Neither should we. But when Jesus railed at the scribes and the Pharisees, when he decried the profanity of the money changers in the temple, he was already on a path to performing the greatest act of sacrificial love the world has ever known: his blameless death on the cross. And he went to the cross to free the very people whose sinful behaviors he had called out from slavery to sin.
So before we call people out for hypocrisy or arrogance or degeneracy or callousness, let’s stop and ask ourselves: Have we loved them? Have we sacrificed for them? Have we bled for them? Do we plan to? If not, our criticism sounds less like Jesus and more like the self-righteous men he rebuked. Jesus gave us a beautiful example of speaking the truth in love. Let’s follow it.