Some people wear persecution as a badge of honor. Some people even read in the Bible that they should expect persecution if they follow the example of Jesus, and then they go out of their way to make sure others will criticize them. The problem is that some people believe that if other people criticize what they are doing, they must be doing something right. They use persecution as confirmation that they are being righteous. This is horribly misguided.
When we decide that other people's derision is a sign that we are headed in the right direction, we walk a very dangerous path. We need other people's insights and observations, because we cannot see everything ourselves. We have blind spots. When we refuse to consider the feedback other people offer to us, we miss opportunities to adjust our behavior when we are misaligned with our deepest values.
The author of John is suggesting that if people take seriously the call to radical love, then there will be others who attack that position out of fear and ignorance. The point is not that if people criticize you, you're doing something right. The point is that if you're doing what is right, some people will criticize you. There is a huge difference. Criticism is to be expected, and we should prepare for it so we don't get knocked off course. Criticism is not a measurement tool, though. We can't assume that all criticism is an indication that we are effectively basing all that we do on sound principles in alignment with our deepest values.
Anxiety causes people to base their decisions on all manner of things that are worthy of criticism. People crave more wealth, more exclusive neighborhoods, more toys, more isolation from people who seem different, more access to high quality healthcare and education and food and entertainment. We see suffering and we often run the other way, trying to escape it in our own lives because we can't stand seeing it in other people's lives. We build walls of protection around ourselves so that we don't have to face a reality that might cost us something. We fail to love because we are too busy being right, we just don't always know what we're trying to be right about. We lose our sense of our principles and our values because we are too focused on making our anxiety go away.
We have to know what we value first and foremost, and we have to live with integrity to those values. If we envision ourselves as loving people, for instance, that value is the guide by which we evaluate our behavior, not people's criticism. If we want to be loving, and other people give us feedback that we aren't being very loving, we need to pay attention to that feedback. Using criticism as an indicator that we must be on the right path can lead us far astray from the principles upon which we most want our lives to be built.
As the author of John suggests, we have within us an internal guidance system. Some of us may not pay a lot of attention to it, especially if we are accustomed to writing off criticism as validation. Yet, we know when there is something off about our behavior, or when there is something off in our relationships. The author of John probably experienced some persecution as he and his community strove to build their behavior on the foundation of radical love. The radical love was the goal, though, not the persecution.
There are those today who believe that their religious liberties are threatened when other people gain equal freedoms under the law. When they speak out in hatred and fear, they are sometimes criticized, and sometimes they turn to passages like this one and claim that the people doing the criticizing are misguided and ignorant. Such fearful and hateful people often miss the context of the passage, that love is intended to be the foundation of every action.
Hatred and violence are worthy of criticism, and any belief system that promotes fear and violence is worthy of all the admonishment we can muster. We can speak words of admonition without becoming hateful and fearful ourselves. We can be loving and still provide strong corrective feedback when others allow their fear to run away with them. We absolutely must offer boldly loving admonition if we want our world and our relationships to be just and equitable.
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"If people hate you for being loving and for living with integrity, be aware that people have always done so. If you had their level of unchecked anxiety, you would fit right in and people would accept you more easily. Because you have taken on a more intentional way of being, some people are going to hate you. You are not alone. Many other people before you have been persecuted by fearful people. But there have also always been people who sought a better way of living.
"If people had no resources to manage their anxiety and live more intentionally, it would be easier to forgive their ignorant hatred. By now, though, there have been plenty of examples in every religious tradition that could equip and empower people to live with integrity to the deepest value of love. When they hate you for being loving, they wind up hating the very thing they say they most value, even their own gods. They have no justifiable reason to be anxious, but they refuse to realize it.
"You have a connection with your deepest, most noble self. Nurture that connection and let it guide you into integrity with what you value most. Your very life will be a testimony to those who are willing to listen, and a model for those who are willing to follow your example."