“If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate . . . even his own life, he cannot be My disciple.” ~ Luke 14:26
“He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it to life of the ages.” ~ John 12:25
Then I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation, and the power, and the kingdom of our God and the authority of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren has been thrown down, he who accuses them before our God day and night. And they overcame him because of the blood of the Lamb and because of the word of their testimony, and they did not love their life until death.” ~ Revelation 12:10-11
You know what I want? I want to write a post that’s nothing but praise. Just talk about how wonderful God is, how he rescued me from the pit, given me favor and brought joy to my heart. But I’m not feeling creative enough to write fantasy at the moment. Instead, it seems to be my lot to talk with you about hating your life. Sounds like fun, doesn’t it?
Unless you’re an emo teen, you just don’t get much more counter-cultural than hating your life these days. We’re obsessed with finding happiness. It’s all about being grateful, having a good attitude, never giving up, focusing on the positive. The best revenge is living well.
Up until last week, I followed several “Happiness Experts” who wrote helpful lists like “7 ways you’re making yourself miserable” and “12 habits you have to give up if you want to be happy”. Because if you’re unhappy it’s all your own damn fault, donchano? (Oddly enough, back in 2009, my New Year’s resolution was to “do things that happy people do”. 2009 was the year that my life went all the way to shit, btw. )
Last week, I wrote about learning not to fight the pain of the hard road I’m on. To treat it like being in labor – something you accept, lean and relax into and allow to do its work. But as I did this, I was left with one thought SCREAMING in my head: “I hate my life.”
For the record, I’m not actually an emo teen. So hating my life isn’t really acceptable. And there are good things in my life. I have 5 beautiful, healthy children who love me, if nothing else. I have things I am grateful for. I’ve lowered my expectations enough that I’m often genuinely thankful for air and water. And for not having to walk around naked in front of strangers with my flab jiggling. I’m not just an entitled, narcissistic twit.
But all I could think for several days was, “I hate my life.” Rather than fighting it, or even ruminating on all the reasons I was or was not justified in hating my life, I just took it to God and sat with it. And those verses above began coming to mind. The ones where Jesus says if you don’t hate your life, you can’t be his disciple.
I don’t for a minute think that we are supposed to try to hate our lives. That we should ignore what is good about life, eschew pleasure and joy, focus on the negative and develop contempt for our lives. But it does happen sometimes that following Jesus can lead you to places and into seasons of hating your life. If you aren’t willing to do that, you can’t follow him.
IOW, following Jesus may bring you to a place of hating your life, but hating your life won’t help you follow Jesus.
Now, this does raise the question of what sort of God we follow who wants or leads us to hate our own lives. Why would he even give us life if in order to follow him, we would have to hate it? If life is a gift, wouldn’t he want us to enjoy it? Funny thing, that. It’s all about death, actually.
Just like there are two births – a physical and a spiritual birth (see John 3:1-8), there are two deaths – the first, physical death we all know and the second, spiritual death spoken of in the Book of Revelation (2:11, 20:6, 20:14, 21:8). The second death is the same death which is frequently spoken of in the New Testament as being crucified with Christ, death to sin, death with Christ, etc.
It is dying to self, the illusion of this world and the falseness of sin, our attachments to things, positions, our reputations, our work, our amusements and anything else that is not God. (Of course, it is God who gives life and brings death – this isn’t something we can either cause or avoid.)
There comes a point in this process neither God or the things of this world are within your grasp. And then you will hate your life. As the verse above in Revelation says of those who overcame, “they did not love their life until death.” On the other side of the second death, comes true love and joy in life. But before that there’s suffering. Just like the pain of labor comes before the joy of birth.
But again, why did God set things up this way? The answer is he didn’t really. Remember back in the book of Genesis what God told Adam would happen if he ate the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil: “on that day you will surely die.” This has long been a puzzle – Adam and Eve went on to live long lives after eating the fruit. Humanity is still around. Some people say that God relented of his threat, but God said, “surely”. That sounds pretty non-negotiable.
But what if God wasn’t speaking of physical death, but of the second death we’ve been talking about? What if God didn’t want us to eat of the fruit because he knew that doing so meant having to go through this spiritual death? That we would have to suffer so much that rather than enjoying the gift of life he’d given us, we’d hate it.
There’s this myth that prior to the fall, people were perfect. Yet, if you go back to the story of the fall, even before eating the fruit, Eve told the serpent that not only had God told them they couldn’t eat the fruit, but that they weren’t even to touch the tree. And God had said no such thing. Which means that either Eve was mistaken or lying. Even before the fall, we were not perfect as we think of perfect. And yet God was happy to have us live in the garden and to walk with us in the cool of the evening.
We walk through the second death in the hope of resurrection and being born again of Spirit. But we’re like a child giving birth before her body is fully matured. It’s far more painful and dangerous than it was ever meant to be. God did not want that for us. He was happy for us to occupy ourselves with making babies and tending the land for food. That was all he meant for us to do – not to be perfect, not to die to the world around us, not to take our life from Him alone. But just to enjoy the life we were given.
Our enemy, however, didn’t care how painful it would be for us to walk through this death. His opinion was that if we were capable of it, then we should do it. Much like a cruel man might demand that a girl become a mother as soon as her body was capable of it. After all, babies are good, right? Being born of the spirit is good, right?
And yes, being born of the spirit is good. But the painful process we are going through, the one which makes us hate our own lives, was not God’s intention for us. The destruction we have caused to ourselves and our planet was not God’s intention for us. Yet, once something is known it cannot be unknown. Once the fruit was eaten, we were set on this path towards death. The only way out is through.
So, as much as I’d love to be writing praise rather than about death, I know that there are people who need to hear this message. That if you hate your life, it may not mean you’re doing anything wrong. It’s just part of being a disciple and dying to sin. You’re not going through this because God is willing to make you suffer endlessly for your own good. He hates to see you suffering like this as much as you hate being the one to suffer. But Jesus went through it as well. His resurrection is for us to share. All of those verses in Revelation about the second death say that it can’t harm us. What the enemy intends for evil, God is using for good. I don’t think there’s anything to do now except hang in there, be gentle with yourself and others and wait for the death which precedes the birth we’re waiting for.