The opposite of love.

When Christians talk about love, naturally we’re gonna bring up the subject of the opposite of love.

But on this subject, we’re not entirely agreed. The scriptures contrast a lot of things with love. Obviously hate.

Ecclesiastes 3.8 KJV
A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.
Amos 5.15 KJV
Hate the evil, and love the good, and establish judgment in the gate: it may be that the LORD God of hosts will be gracious unto the remnant of Joseph.
Malachi 1.2-3 KJV
2 I have loved you, saith the LORD. Yet ye say, Wherein hast thou loved us? Was not Esau Jacob’s brother? saith the LORD: yet I loved Jacob, 3 and I hated Esau, and laid his mountains and his heritage waste for the dragons of the wilderness.
Matthew 5.43 KJV
Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy.
Luke 16.13 KJV
No servant can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.

Here’s where teachers like me are obligated to point out when middle easterners contrast love with hate, they don’t always literally mean hate. Frequently they just mean “don't love as much as the other person or thing.” When the LORD said he loves Jacob but hates Esau, Ro 9.13 no he doesn’t hate-hate Esau, but favors Jacob more. He chose Jacob, and passed over Esau. The LORD still blessed Esau, made a nation out of him, even had close relationships with Edomites like Job; his “hatred” still looks a whole lot like great and gracious love! But the LORD had much greater expectations on Jacob and the Israelites, and offered ’em particular blessings as a result. Plus Jesus was born an Israelite.

Other Christians take note of this particular verse in 1 John

1 John 4.18 NKJV
There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love.

—and conclude, not wrongly, that fear and love kinda oppose one another. And no, this idea isn’t only found in only one verse; Paul kinda hinted at it in a letter to Timothy:

2 Timothy 1.7 KJV
For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.

Hence Christians take this idea and really pound it into the ground. When other Christians state love and hate are opposite, these know-it-alls love to point out, “Actually no; it’s love versus fear.” And sometimes quote the proof text. And sometimes talk about their personal experiences which prove love and fear are opposite.

Yeah, you probably guessed I have an alternative answer. And if you ever studied logic, you already know what it is. The exact opposite of love, is not-love. The absence of love. It’s when love simply isn’t there. We don’t have it.

The absence of love can look like all sorts of things, including hate and fear. And selfishness, callousness, anger, violence; y’might think up a few more. But it doesn’t have to look like anything. If love simply isn’t there, it won’t really look like anything anyway. Pick any inanimate object, like a pencil on your table: Does it love? Only if you imagine really hard that it has a soul, and thoughts, and feelings; that it loves to draw, and hates getting sharpened. Which is all projection, of course.

Likewise a rock doesn’t love. A chair doesn’t love. Statues don’t; dollar bills don’t. Even “smart” objects don’t: Your phone doesn’t love, your car doesn’t love, your Roomba doesn’t love. Even when you program these things to tell you so, or get ’em to do things that our fellow humans do to demonstrate love, we recognize love’s gotta have an intelligence behind it. Artificial intelligence ain’t there yet.

So when a human lacks love, that person’s not necessarily gonna look hostile, negative, or dangerous. At our most benign, humans are gonna look as inert as a pencil. They won’t love you… and won’t hate you either. Won’t anything. You’re not a factor in their considerations. That’s all.

If you want a one-word synonym for not-love, the best I can think of would be apathy. But apathy implies they know about you, yet don’t love you; more often they don’t know about you, or simply haven’t thought of you. Or it hasn’t crossed their mind to love you: Point this out to them, and they might! Point is, not-love is even more nonmalignant than apathy. No harm’s meant. No offense.

But not-love still creates problems.

Yep, not-love is in the bible.

First time I explained to a youth group how the opposite of love is not-love, one of the kids objected, “But love versus fear is in the bible, and your thing isn’t in the bible.” Ah, but it is. People quote it all the time, too:

1 Corinthians 13.1-3 NKJV
1 Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. 2 And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing.

When we act without love, even when we supernaturally act without love, we’re irrelevant, we’re useless, we accomplish nothing, and we’re being jerks.

I’ve seen it firsthand aplenty. When people are working in a ministry, but have no love for the people they’re ministering to, they become massive jerks. They exhibit no patience, no kindness; it’s just “Move it along; I’ve got lots of people to serve and you’re holding me up.” It’s not about people; it’s just numbers. It’s not about getting people to appreciate, or get interested in, God’s kingdom; it’s about all the jewels you were told you’d get in your crown at the End. It’s all about racking up good karma for Jesus, not loving your neighbor… and it shows. And it sucks.

To those being “ministered to,” who get herded like cattle instead of helped and loved: They were expecting love. They got brusqueness, impatience, sarcasm, and mockery. Sure felt like hatred.

’Cause when love is absent, everything else, especially all the negative, self-centered, fleshly stuff, is still there. There’s no love to mitigate, nullify, or take the place of those things. People really feel the difference. It’s why Christians are meant to be identified as Christ-followers by, at the very least, our love for one another. Jn 13.35 But we suck at demonstrating that, and people definitely remember Christians who weren’t quite so loving to them.

Doing the opposite of hate and fear doesn’t count.

I’ve heard many a Christian claim they do so love their neighbors… because they certainly don’t hate them. See, if hatred and love are opposites, they figure if they lack hate, by default they gotta have love. And other Christians try the very same thing with fear: They’re not afraid, so it must be love, right?

Back to logic: The opposite of hate is not-hate. The opposite of fear is not-fear. An inanimate object doesn’t hate, doesn’t fear; it’s inert. And while it’s good that we don’t hate and fear others, simply not hating and not fearing makes us just as inert as a boulder on the ground. Once again, we have apathy. Which, I remind you, is just a blank slate… one where our fleshly works are all the more obvious.

Okay, you’re not doing evil! But we still gotta do good. Do something.

And love actually does stuff. Love has patience, behaves kindly; doesn’t act with uncontrolled emotion, point out how great it is, inflate itself, ignore others’ considerations, provoke ill behavior, plot evil, delight in wrongdoing, etcetera. 1Co 13.4-5 The apostles defined love with lots of verbs, describing what it does, and describing what we oughta do. We don’t just love by default when we don’t hate and don’t fear: We gotta do love. Put some effort into it!

Love one another. Love your neighbor. Love your enemies. Love everybody, basically; same as God loves the world. Jn 3.16 It’s a big job, so start small. But get started.