When I was young, I thought the opposite of love must be hate.
This seemed obvious to my forming mind. Love is a strong emotion at one pole, and hate is an equally strong emotion at the other. But as I grew up, I started to see that the fires of love and hate need the oxygen of focus and effort, or the fire dies. While the ends are different, love and hate share a key similarity. Maybe the two aren’t so opposite after all.
Then I read Elie Weisel’s famous quote that the opposite of love is indifference.
Ah! Of course! If I am indifferent to someone, I feel nothing toward that person and I will do nothing for him or her. I won’t encourage, I won’t build up, I won’t help. I just don’t care. The focus and effort love requires is absent.
Later I heard that Pope John Paul II said that the opposite of love is use.
This caused me to pause and reflect. Using or taking advantage of someone treats them like a thing and not a person, which denies their infinite worth. Things are meant to be used; people are not. Using someone takes focus and effort. It may be accompanied by feelings of indifference or hatred.
But then I read 1 John 4:18 and wondered if the opposite of love is fear.
That passage says, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” Every time I’m afraid, I am indifferent to the needs of others around me. I may even use someone in trying to secure my safety. In extreme cases, I may choose to hate, thinking I’m protecting myself.
Now I’m not so sure there is an opposite of love. But thinking about this surely has highlighted for me some key ways it can be distorted and blocked.
First published in July, 2011.