Stephen Paddock, Harvey Weinstein and Jesus
By David Desforge
The Holy Spirit snuck up on me. He surprised me with unexpected compassion for Stephen Paddock and then for Harvey Weinstein. Stephen has become the object of justified mass hatred for his Las Vegas massacre, and Harvey for an avalanche of aggressive sexual misconduct allegations.
The media has relentlessly and passionately vilified both men. Given the heinous nature of the guilt of the first and the accusations against the latter, it feels reasonable to label them despicable human beings, scum of the earth, and so on.
I’ve not used those words. Not out loud anyway. Yet inwardly, like most people, I have felt disgusted and repulsed by their deeds. That is, until the Holy Spirit reminded me that I wasn’t really separating their deeds from their faces and persons. I suspect we rarely do.
I hadn’t allowed myself to admit I hate them. Like any good Christian, I assume I love everyone. I hate the sin and not the sinner, right? But as I listened to yet another round of reviling defamation this morning, a sudden sense of compassion exposed where my heart had really been. Why had I felt none of this before? Why, instead, did my spirit identify with the hateful attitudes, self-righteous superiority and disdain I was hearing, not only toward the acts but the actors?
I am realizing that I am far too overconfident about separating deeds from doers without supernatural intervention. When the Spirit intervened and did exactly that, I found myself looking at these men with different eyes: more like Jesus looked at Matthew, Zachaeus, the woman at the well, the one caught in adultery, post-betrayal Peter, the prostitute in Luke 7 and Saul the mass murderer of Christians. We can safely imagine that each person suffered consequences to their sins, and reaped what they had sown in some way. However, while Jesus conflicted with their dark behaviors, the light of his sympathetic mercy and loving-kindness touched each of their faces.
Now I saw not only the grossest crimes and allegations but fellow humans and sinners, ravaged by the defacing power of sin. And the Spirit whispered, “There but for the grace of God go you. Where is your mercy? Pity them. Put down your hate-rocks. How would you like to fail that badly and be relentlessly pursued by an innumerable mob? Justice will be in the proper hands, and they are not yours. Take some comfort and relief from that protection, but do not relish in the hostility and animosity. Mourn not only the damage they did but the damage they are.” Grace was breaking through my hateful heart.
If I sound too dramatic or soft on sin, I think it’s because Jesus is way too radical for us and his Gospel too foreign. Catch this: there is not a single human being we can justify placing outside the circle of our love; and not a single human being we can justify placing inside our circle of hate. Not Stephen, not Harvey, not your spouse. Not the friend who betrayed you or the lover who spurned you. Not even the brothers and sisters in Christ who turn on you.
We know the passage too well, yet we ignore it. “You have heard it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies…” (Mt. 5:43-44A).
Jesus leaves no loopholes for hate and I hate that. The truth is that I love to hate because I am a sinner. But I cover hate by believing it is something else: righteous anger, godly concern, truth, justice and such.
How can we know the difference? By considering our hearts: specifically, our motives, attitudes and actions. What does the fruit of love look like? It looks like Jesus. It looks like treating every person like you would treat yourself. How can I do to them, feel about them, talk about them, as I would want done to me? It looks like compassion, including compassion for how sin can sink any one of us.
Love is a merciful heart, not a spirit of vengeance and retaliation. The truth is that I often want people to suffer and hurt for the hurt they’ve done, especially when it becomes personal. Something in me desires vigilante justice for those who murder with guns or even just their mouths. I don’t really want to bless and pray for those who persecute me. I want to pray they’ll be blessed with persecution.
If that’s what love looks like, then failing it is what hate looks like. More actively, my hate was being reflected by a condemning attitude, feeling above the failures of these men, a total contempt for them as persons, a complete lack of concern for their well-being, and a desire for their sins to be counted against them ten-fold. And it was reflected in the way I talked to others about them and their crimes or accusations.
So, Holy Spirit, I confess I am a hater of people and this is just the surface. I not only despise those whom society calls despicable, but anyone who hurts me (or those I love) in far lesser and more subtle ways. That’s why you remind me five times in 1 John that I am prone to hate my brothers and sisters in similar ways.
Thank you, God, for Jesus, because we are all not only haters of people but God (Rom. 1:30). And you, Lord, took my hate on yourself. You loved me in my hate so you could make me more like yourself. So I give you these sins today, resting in you for forgiveness, worthy of being considered a despicable example of humanity, but gifted instead with your underserved favor. Please continue to break into my days through your Spirit, and the strategic cluelessness of my self-righteous heart. Change me.