Today is Martin Luther King, Jr day. King left a huge mark on our society, and even the entire world. While many could speak to the work he did better than I, I did want to take a couple minutes to talk about one of his many quotes that had a positive impact on myself and the world. The quote comes from his book, Strength to Love, and is remarkably relevant today.
“Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction.”
MLK lived in a time of incredible hate. He and the people he loved were dehumanized, experienced verbal and physical persecution, lived in segregation, and suffered for no reason other than the color of their skin. Some believed the appropriate response was to retaliate in kind, with hate and violence. King was resolute, however, knowing that hate and retaliation only drove things down towards destruction.
What Jesus Said
Jesus takes the same approach in the Gospels. While on the cross he experienced tremendous physical pain and verbal abuse from the people around him. In one of the hardest, most painful and wretched experiences anyone has experienced Jesus did not retaliate. He could have called down the angels and smote everyone in attendance. Instead, he said these simple words in Luke 23:34, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
Today’s news is filled with stories of public figures “bashing” or “destroying” or “embarrassing” each other. We get a rise out of the controversy and love to read those stories. Unfortunately, this retaliatory behavior doesn’t move things forward.
We try to justify retaliation by saying, “but these people are hateful and evil! They don’t deserve to be loved!”
The truth is – they don’t deserve to be loved. But neither do you, and neither do I. We are all sinners, and despite this, Jesus chose to love us. Luke 7 tells a wonderful story in which Jesus forgives the sins of a sinful woman. Her sin was great, but after his forgiveness, her love was great.
When we understand our position in the gospel, that we are sinners forgiven by God, we are better able to love others and respond with peace instead of retaliation.
Choosing to love when others expect hate or retaliation is revolutionary. People take notice, and it changes things. During the peaceful protests that MLK led, marchers were attacked with fire hoses, tear gas, police batons, and more. If they had responded with retaliation, it would have fit their persecutors’ narrative. Those in power could have said, “see, these people are dangerous and only know violence! We must continue to keep them segregated.”
By responding with peace, by not retaliating, MLK proved that the people in power were wrong. President Johnson had to act and call for change. Light drove out the darkness.
It’s easy to get caught up in the constant bickering and arguing of our modern culture. It’s easy to show hatred towards those who hate. But ultimately, those responses will never cause positive change. Remember the love God has shown you, despite your sin, and allow that love to overflow into the lives of others.