The opposite of love is not hatred, but apathy.
Before addressing the opposite of love, we should first consider the origin of love - God. The Bible clearly states “God is love” (I Jn 4). One writer labels love as “the bond of perfection,” which would corroborate with Paul’s pen, “put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony” (Col 3.14, ESV). If you think about it, both the “binding” and “perfect” nature of love make sense when considering both the triune and eternal nature of the Godhead. Before God loved any other, the Godhead is bound in perfection; thus, God is love.
The same idea of binding love is also true among men, which is more to Paul’s point. The effectual nature of love is that it “binds (men) together in perfect harmony.”
I have heard it argued since God is love, He is incapable of hatred. As the point goes, God does not have the capacity for hatred since He is only and always benevolent, since he is always seeking to only “bind” men to Himself. The logic might even continue - it is a contradiction for God to be one thing and at the same time be its opposite. Since the opposite of love is hatred and God cannot contradict Himself, else he would cease to be God, God cannot hate. This view is really nothing more than the most popular contemporary view of God the Son - Jesus Christ. From the Vatican to the local Vineyard fellowship, “for God so loved the world” translated today means “for God only loves the world.”
On the point that God cannot contradict Himself I certainly agree. However, the logic used to support an idea that God is love and therefore cannot hate is wrong. It is bad logic mostly because hatred does not oppose love; rather, hatred is a companion to love. Hatred is a manifestation of love by other means, not its opposite. To hate one thing is always and necessarily to love another thing. In fact, hatred cannot be separated from love. Even in the extreme, the most non-sensical hatred for a certain thing or idea must be tied, however warped or non-sensical, to a certain other thing or idea that is loved, however much or little. Even if it is simply tied to a love for the nonexistence of that thing or idea that is hated, it is always related. Hatred does not exist in a vacuum. Neither does love.
To love one thing is always and necessarily to hate another thing. For example, if I love Ford, I might not necessarily hate Chevy. If I love the Longhorns, I might not necessarily hate the Aggies. But to truly love Ford or the Longhorns must mean that I must either not love Chevys or the Aggies as much, that I must dislike the idea of not loving Ford or the Longhorns, or that I actually do hate Chevys or the Aggies. Any of these scenarios would not only strengthen my love for Fords or the Longhorns, but it would also protect that love as well - strengthened because my love is wholly focused on the one and protected because my love for the one is not threatened by any love for another.
More practical and personal examples might be:
- Am I loving my wife if I do not hate anything that would threaten my love for her alone?
- Am I loving my children if I do not hate their disobedience?
- Am I loving the truth if I do not hate my own lies?
- Am I loving righteousness if I do not hate my own self-righteousness?
Otherwise, if it were possible for love to exist in a vacuum - where love might exist without the existence of hatred - then it would cease to exist at all. If it were possible that everything would be only loved, then nothing would be truly loved. Put another way, only when something or some idea is truly hated can some other thing or idea be truly loved. Therefore, the opposite of love is not hatred; rather, hatred of one thing is absolutely necessary in order to fully love another thing with strength and protection. Love needs hatred in order to fully display itself.
Jesus taught this concept when he spoke these harsh words, “if anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own live, he cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26 ESV). To say that we love one thing or idea must mean a hatred for another lesser or contrary thing or idea; otherwise, the love we claim to have is not really love.
The sine qua non moment in human history displays this concept as well. When God the Father’s hatred for sin is miraculously and mysteriously consumed by His Son on the cross, only then is the depth of love God has towards his own people fully revealed. Hatred for sin to the point of death is the only way His love is manifested into life.
Therefore, if fundamental in God’s love towards man is indeed a “bond” that makes “perfect,” then its opposite, that opposed to God’s love towards man, must have to do with separation from God, or more specifically, a separation that makes more imperfect.
On three occasions within four verses, Paul describes this type of separation as “God gave them up” (Romans 1). Wait a second...“God gave them up?” How is this even possible? Is this even possible? If God is love, how can He, even if temporarily, give up on someone? Wouldn’t this make God somehow apathetic, since giving up on someone must mean you no longer have any interest, enthusiasm or concern for them? Without looking back at Romans 1, if a place existed where "God gave them up," what would it look like? If a separation making imperfect were to manifest itself, how would that appear? Perhaps in a place like this:
- Where most of the time you would feel little to nothing at all about most everything
- Where ideas and opinions are rarely loved or hated but are always tolerated
- Where the goal is to plot your own course and to never face any real obstacles
- Where getting what you want when you want it is ultimate achievement
- Where being consumed by materialism, by events, by status is simply what everyone lives for
- Where morality is determined by what you can get away with
- Where it is possible for the illogical idea that all truth is only relative might be not only accepted, but standardized, and not only standardized, but championed as an ideal worth fighting for
Says a remarkable commentator, “the enterprise of setting up the ‘No-God’ is avenged by its success.” Perhaps the most frightening scenario to consider is not one where man is made to somehow see and know the wrath of God. Instead, the most frightening scenario begins with four simple words - "God gave them up." Where man is determined to separate God from his world, God often gives him exactly what he wants.