The Opposite Of Love

Essays — By on November 4, 2011 at 12:17 pm

I remember a few years ago there was a discussion in Christian circles about exactly what the opposite of love could be. If people are not being kind and loving, what exactly were they doing instead? What do they need to stop doing so they can be loving, as we all know God is loving? What stops Christians, and those who aren’t Christians, from loving their neighbours, and anyone else in their world for that matter? What is this key that might help Christians carry out 1 John 4:7  - Let us love one another, for love comes from God –  so we could potentially stop wars, cure poverty and just generally help people get along? The rest of this scripture actually tells us that everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Love makes us like Him, because he is Love. Surely if we just did the opposite of whatever was preventing us from loving, we’d be heading in the right direction?

We’d all been assuming for ages that the opposite of love was hate.  But then someone pointed out that you can hate someone and love someone at the same time, and that you can demonstrate hating behaviours directly towards someone you profess love for and vice versa.  And we knew it was in fact possible to hold onto ones hate for someone or something and give all the outward appearances of love, or even to love just one sort of person and hate another sort for quite arbitrary reasons, if there were sufficient incentive to do so.  So we stopped saying love and hate were opposites anymore, and resolved to just accept that in certain circumstances sometimes hating was unavoidable, and love impossible.

So after that, they said the opposite of love must be fear, because we only hate what we are afraid of, and once we know all about something and don’t fear it any more we are able to love it.  For example, Christians were encouraged to learn about and understand varying religious practices and sexual expressions in the hope that this would lead to greater capacity to love the people engaged in them.  But unfortunately, ‘others’ remained ‘others’ despite everything we knew about them, the only difference being that Christians now knew more about the people they hated and could object to them in more personal and informed ways than ever was previously possible.  Fear, it seemed, could not be eradicated by love, but fear could be useful in helping us work out who God’s enemies were.

But then someone else said, no, it’s not fear that’s the opposite of love, it’s is actually indifference.  And we all went “yeah…”, because we could all relate to being on the receiving end of someone else’s total lack of positive regard, or any regard whatsoever, be it positive or negative.  We appreciated that what people aren’t aware of, they can’t have any feelings toward – they can’t love what they don’t acknowledge.  Christians understood indifference – we experienced it when we tried to tell the world they were all dying in their sin and going to hell, and then refused to come to church or know and appreciate our Lord and Saviour.  We were also well versed ourselves in demonstrating indifference toward people or issues we had no vested interest in changing or improving, or where we could effect no change favourable to our cause.  We all agreed indifference had to be at the opposite end of the spectrum from love.  The absence of any feeling or sentiment, empathy or interest in the other, whether feigned or inadvertent, surely had to be the opposite of what Jesus had in mind, except in the cases where one deliberately maintained one’s innocence, ignorance or naivety for reasons of maintaining good mental health or physical safety.  We couldn’t be held responsible for loving those we went out of our way to avoid ever coming across in the first place.

Time has passed.  The world is changing.  Love in all its forms is needed now more than ever before.  The older I get, the more I understand that the world, and by the world I mean the earth and all the people on it, has some fairly significant problems, and that I am one of them.  I can tell you what I hate and what I’m afraid of, even though I know Christ teaches me to love, and tells me that love comes from God.  I think about the pressing social issues in my part of the world and wonder at my own capacity for indifference when it comes to solving these issues, or even being part of the solution.  I search for smiles.  I stare into the blank expressions of the people around me in the street, and I think, surely, we are all as capable of love, even small expressions of it, small acts of kindness, as we are of indifference, of fear, of hate?

There is no opposite of love.  There is love, and you do, or you do not.  It’s within us to do it, all the time, to everyone.  It’s how we were made.  When it comes to how we were made to love, the gears work only in one direction, but at various speeds, including not at all if we so choose.  They don’t go backwards.  There’s no opposite to love.  Hate, fear and indifference are different sets of gears, and let’s face it, running all your gears at once is exhausting; no wonder we pick only the ones that require least resistance. Hate and fear each pull from their own momentum, but move quickly once they get going; they feed off each other. Indifference gets busy and greases those gears. But love needs someone out front to throw the propeller before it can even get off the ground. With love, you’re the mechanic, the pilot the navigator and the passenger. Love is harder work, but takes you much further, and the view is better.

Why do we overcomplicate things? Does it help us in actually practicing love to think love has opposites? Or does it merely justify our own reasons for not doing it, or provide the ammunition to aim at someone else we think should be? I have been the recipient of an act of love perpetrated by someone who lacks the capacity to tie their own shoes, directed at me for no other reason than I was present in the room. It’s not quantum physics. But maybe that’s where we go wrong.  Maybe it is. I mean, how many people in this world really get quantum physics? When you think about it, it apparently explains everything, but hardly anybody actually understands it.

If fear, hate and indifference figure anywhere in the love equation, it’s perhaps only to demonstrate what poor excuses they make for not doing it. The propensity for fear, hate and indifference to the plight of others might not indicate so much a lack of acting upon a motivation to love, but perhaps more a sign of a lack of being loved. If a fearful person were properly loved, would they be so afraid? If a hateful person were properly loved, might they be less threatened by the society of others? If an indifferent person were properly loved, might they be more willing to see the world through others eyes, on purpose?

Love is not so much the opposite of fear, hate and indifference as it is the cure for it. People who are properly loved will not be afraid, hateful or naive, and it’s our mission as Christians to love one another, because love comes from God. When we have learned how to be loved properly by God ourselves, through Christ, we will release love’s alternatives, and seek to practice it at every opportunity. Our mission surely then as professors and disciples of Christ is to do what He did. Love people. And do it properly.


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  • Nathan Bubna says:

    I couldn’t agree more. Love is not a concept or impersonal force that can be directly opposed. It is a quality of a person or an action, and such things do not have opposites. They are either there or not.

  • A.J. Swoboda says:

    Thanks Jo for your words here.

    Over the years, I’ve been priviliged to do a number of pre-marital counseling sessions. Aside from the day-to-day difficulties of learning how to love another person, there is one thing that cannot be overcome.


    Not caring. I think, from my experience, that the opposite of love is apathy.

    I have heard that hatred is a form of love. Apathy, however, is another category.

    Thanks for your thoughts here.


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