Breaking the Cycle of Hate

“Love your enemies.”—MATTHEW 5:44.

FOR days the leaders of two enemy nations carried on intense peace negotiations. The president of a powerful industrialized land lent his presence to the discussions, using his considerable influence and diplomatic skills to try to bring the two leaders together. But the end result of these agonizing efforts was simply more agony. Within weeks the two nations were engaged in what Newsweek magazine called “the worst violence between them in two decades.”

Throughout the world, hatred and animosity between various ethnic and national groups refuse to die, despite the best efforts of national leaders. The cycle of hate progresses ever more quickly, fed by ignorance, bigotry, and propaganda. But while today’s leaders vainly grope for new and innovative solutions, they fail to see that the best solution is an old one—something as old as the Sermon on the Mount. During that sermon Jesus Christ encouraged his listeners to submit to God’s ways. In that context he made the statement quoted above, namely, “Love your enemies.” That exhortation is not only the best solution to the problem of hate and prejudice but the only workable solution!

Skeptics brush off the idea of loving one’s enemies as hopelessly idealistic and impractical. However, if hatred is learned behavior, then is it not reasonable to assume that it can be unlearned? Jesus’ words thus hold out real hope for mankind. They show that it is possible to put aside even long-standing animosities.

Consider the situation in Jesus’ day among his Jewish listeners. They did not need to go far to find enemies. Roman troops continued to hold sway over the region, subjecting the Jews to oppressive taxation, political manipulation, abuse, and exploitation. (Matthew 5:39-42) However, some could even view fellow Jews as enemies because of petty disagreements that had been left unresolved and allowed to fester. (Matthew 5:21-24) Could Jesus really expect his listeners to love individuals who had caused them hurt and pain?

The Meaning of “Love”

First, realize that by “love,” Jesus did not have in mind the sort of affection that might exist between close friends. The Greek term for love used at Matthew 5:44 comes from the word a·gaʹpe. This word carries the meaning of love that is guided or governed by principle. It does not necessarily include warm affection. Because it is guided by righteous principle, such love moves one to seek the best interests of others, regardless of their behavior. A·gaʹpe love can thus transcend personal enmities. Jesus himself demonstrated such love when, instead of calling down evil on the Roman soldiers who impaled him, he prayed: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”—Luke 23:34.

 Is it realistic to expect that the world will embrace Jesus’ teachings on a large scale and that people will begin to love one another? No, for the Bible indicates that this world will continue plunging headlong toward disaster. “Wicked men and impostors will advance from bad to worse,” predicts 2 Timothy 3:13. Nevertheless, individuals can break the cycle of hate by becoming thoroughly educated in righteous principles through a study of the Bible. The record clearly shows that many have thus learned to resist the flood of hate swirling around them. Consider a few real-life cases.

Learning to Love

At the age of 13, José was involved in guerrilla warfare as a member of a terrorist group. * He was taught to hate the people allegedly responsible for the injustices he saw around him. If feasible, his aim was to eliminate them. Seeing so many of his companions fall in death, José became filled with feelings of bitterness and revenge. While making grenades, he would ask himself, ‘Why is there so much suffering? If there is a God, does he not even notice?’ Many times he wept, confused and depressed.

José eventually came in contact with a local congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses. At his first congregation meeting, he immediately noticed the loving atmosphere there. Everyone greeted him in a warm and friendly manner. Later, a discussion on the subject “Why Does God Permit Wickedness?” provided answers to the very questions he had been asking. *

In time, increased knowledge from the Bible led José to make changes in his life and in his way of thinking. He came to learn that “he who does not love remains in death. Everyone who hates . . . is a manslayer,  and . . . no manslayer has everlasting life remaining in him.”—1 John 3:14, 15.

Breaking his ties with his terrorist companions proved to be challenging, though. Every time he went to the Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses, he was followed. Some former associates even attended a few meetings so as to understand what had brought about such a change in José. Once they were satisfied that he was not a traitor or a danger to them, they left him alone. At age 17, José was baptized as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. He soon started preaching full-time. Instead of scheming to kill people, he now takes them a message of love and hope!

Tearing Down Ethnic Barriers

Can members of ethnic groups tear down the barriers of hate that separate them? Consider the Amharic-speaking group of Jehovah’s Witnesses in London, England. Some 35 individuals make up that group—20 of these are Ethiopian and 15 are Eritrean. They worship together peacefully and unitedly, in spite of the fact that in Africa, Eritreans and Ethiopians recently fought a bitter war.

One Ethiopian Witness had been told by his family: ‘Never trust Eritreans!’ But now, he not only trusts his Eritrean fellow Christians but calls them brother and sister! Although these Eritreans normally speak the Tigrinya tongue, they chose to learn Amharic—the language of their Ethiopian brothers—so that they can study the Bible along with them. What a marvelous testimony to the strength of godly love as “a perfect bond of union”!—Colossians 3:14.

Letting Go of the Past

But what if one has been the victim of inhumane treatment? Is it not normal to harbor animosity toward one’s tormentors? Consider Manfred, a Witness from Germany. He spent six years of his life in a Communist prison simply because he was one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Did he ever feel hatred for his oppressors or the desire to take revenge? “No,” he answered. According to the German newspaper Saarbrücker Zeitung, Manfred explained: “To do injustice or to  repay injustice . . . sets a cycle in motion that time and again leads to new injustice.” Manfred clearly applied the Bible’s words: “Return evil for evil to no one. . . . If possible, as far as it depends upon you, be peaceable with all men.”—Romans 12:17, 18.

A World Without Hatred!

Jehovah’s Witnesses do not claim to be perfect in this regard. They often find that putting aside old animosities and hatreds is not easy. It takes continuous, diligent work to apply Bible principles in one’s life. But by and large, Jehovah’s Witnesses are a living example of the power of the Bible to break the cycle of hate. Through a program of home Bible studies, Witnesses are helping thousands of people each year to break free from the shackles of racism and bigotry. * (See the box “Bible Counsel Helps Eliminate Hatred.”) That success is a foreglimpse of the results of the worldwide educational program that will soon help eliminate hatred and its causes completely. This future educational program will take place under the supervision of God’s Kingdom, or global government. Jesus taught us to pray for that Kingdom in the Lord’s Prayer, when he said: “Let your kingdom come.”—Matthew 6:9, 10.

The Bible promises that under the supervision of this heavenly government, “the earth will certainly be filled with the knowledge of Jehovah.” (Isaiah 11:9; 54:13) The oft-quoted words of the prophet Isaiah will then see fulfillment on a global basis: “[God] will certainly render judgment among the nations and set matters straight respecting many peoples. And they will have to beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning shears. Nation will not lift up sword against nation, neither will they learn war anymore.” (Isaiah 2:4) God himself will thus break, once and for all time, the vicious cycle of hate.

[Footnotes]

^ par. 11 Not his real name.

^ par. 12 See chapter 8, “Why Does God Permit Suffering?” in the book Knowledge That Leads to Everlasting Life, published by Jehovah’s Witnesses.

^ par. 21 A free home Bible study can be arranged by contacting Jehovah’s Witnesses locally or by writing to the publishers of this magazine.

[Box on page 11]

Bible Counsel Helps Eliminate Hatred

“From what source are there wars and from what source are there fights among you? Are they not from this source, namely, from your cravings for sensual pleasure that carry on a conflict in your members?” (James 4:1) Conflicts with others can often be eliminated if we learn to curb selfish desires.

“[Keep] an eye, not in personal interest upon just your own matters, but also in personal interest upon those of the others.” (Philippians 2:4) Putting the interests of others ahead of our own is another way to eliminate unnecessary conflict.

“Let anger alone and leave rage; do not show yourself heated up only to do evil.” (Psalm 37:8) We can and must control destructive impulses.

“God . . . made out of one man every nation of men, to dwell upon the entire surface of the earth.” (Acts 17:24, 26) It is illogical to feel superior to people of another race, since we are all members of the same human family.

‘Do nothing out of contentiousness or out of egotism, but with lowliness of mind consider that the others are superior to you.’ (Philippians 2:3) It is folly to look down on others—for other people often have qualities and abilities that we do not have ourselves. No one race or culture has a monopoly on all that is good.

“Really, then, as long as we have time favorable for it, let us work what is good toward all.” (Galatians 6:10) Simply taking the initiative to be friendly and helpful to others, regardless of their race or culture, can do much to bridge communication gaps and eliminate misunderstandings.

[Pictures on page 8, 9]

Ethiopian and Eritrean Witnesses worship together in peace

[Picture on page 10]

Manfred, a survivor of a Communist prison, refused to give in to hate

[Picture on page 10]

The Bible can help tear down the barriers that separate people