Now that I’ve got your attention, I’ll try to explain what I mean—because I’m just being obedient to the word of the Lord! He said: “He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life” (Jn. 12:25). Jesus said something similar in Luke 14:26-27, but there He expands the precept to include spouses and family members as well. What can all this mean, from the God who is love?
Well, it’s all about making sure that we actually get into his Kingdom of Love in the end, for that is why He created and redeemed us. For many people, to love their life translates into loving things that will ultimately make it impossible for them to enjoy eternal life. “Loving life” can be a mere euphemism for indulging in sinful pleasures, or for devoting all one’s resources, time, energy, and attention to that which is not the Kingdom of God, that which is really the kingdom of one’s ego or one’s insatiable desire for ephemeral goods. So the Lord says, if you love all that, you’re going to lose it when the time comes to account for your life and to enter upon your eternal destiny.
But do you really have to hate it, and even your own family and relatives? What about “love one another”? As scholars explain, “hate” is an idiomatic expression for “love less.” The strong term is meant to give emphasis to the statement. So, to bring in another similar saying of Jesus, this time from Matthew 10:37-39 (this must be important, since it is found in so many places in the Gospels), if you love father or mother or children more than you love the Lord, you are not worthy of Him and therefore will not inherit his Kingdom. Thus Jesus is saying: if you don’t love your possessions and relations and even your very life less than you love Me, your priorities are tragically askew, and all that you hoped for by cultivating a happy life in this world will be lost in the next.
Now don’t get all indignant here. Jesus is not trying to muscle his way into your life to satisfy an Infinite Ego by dismissing everything else you love. He is just letting you know the truth, since He is the Truth and can only speak truth. God is the ultimate, all-encompassing, everlasting Good, the absolute fullness of all beauty, truth, love, joy, etc. So if you love anything or anyone more than that which constitutes his heavenly Kingdom, you’re missing the mark, you’re not seeing clearly, you are trying to invert the order of reality, you are choosing that which you will have to leave when you die over that which is offered as an eternal inheritance. That’s why Jesus says you will lose it. He’s not making up difficult rules for us; He is letting us know eternal truths about God and man.
This fundamental message, though not always expressed in such startling terms, is found all throughout Scripture and is thus integral to the Gospel of Christ. St Paul is saying basically the same thing when he writes: “And [Jesus] died for all, that those who live might live no longer for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised” (2 Cor. 5:15). Not for ourselves but for Him means that we have our priorities straight, that we “desire not worthless things” (Ps. 24), which draw our attention and efforts toward self-satisfaction in one form or another and keep us from setting our minds and hearts on the things of Heaven (see Col. 3:1-4).
We have to realize that we are not in this world to build our own comfortable kingdoms. We are in exile from Paradise, and it is only through the Lord’s infinite mercy that we are saved from our sins and have the chance to return Home. To live for God, for Heaven, is to acknowledge that we have been “bought” at the price of Jesus’ Precious Blood. It is to live in gratitude, and this is expressed in our service to God and to human beings. It is to seek to enter into that for which we were created in the first place.
There is, however, one main thing that we must literally hate, that which is the ultimate obstacle to our eternal happiness: sin. Hate sin, avoid it like the plague, like the fires of Hell! If you love to do things that are contrary to God’s commandments, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven. So literally hate sin—and act like you hate it!—while loving everything else less than you love God.
When I read the news or various essays on the state of our society, or even only look around the neighborhood where I live, I get the distinct and dismaying impression that most people love all manner of things more than they love God and the things of Heaven. They expend all their energy and even resort to crime to obtain what they think will make them happy, but they’ve got it terribly wrong. St James doesn’t mince words about this: “What causes wars, and what causes fightings among you? Is it not your passions that are at war in your members? You desire and you do not have; so you kill. And you covet and cannot obtain; so you fight and wage war. You do not have because you do not ask. You ask and you do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. Unfaithful creatures! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? … God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Submit yourselves therefore to God…” (James 4:1-7).
The Lord has surveyed the fallen world, taken stock of things, and has concluded that the essential ailment of the world is that human beings do not seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness, failing to understand that everything we need will then be given by our wise and generous Father (see Mt. 6:31-33).
So Jesus has to say: love this life less than the next, love your family and friends less than you love God, get your priorities straight, seek first the Kingdom, don’t waste your time with self-indulgence or with ultimately dead-end pursuits. Life is short; eternity is long. If you want to preserve life forever, “hate” it for now by practicing self-denial for the sake of the Gospel and for discovering the deepest truths about life in this world and in the next. Make your decisions about your life and family based on divine revelation, the faith and morals taught by the Church. You will then discover that you can be happy even in this life while preparing for the next, and you will be able to weather the inevitable trials and hardships with grace, wisdom, courage, and trust.
Live, then, for Him who died for you. It doesn’t matter what it costs. What does it profit us to gain the world and lose our souls forever? Eternal happiness awaits those who choose God above the world and all it has to offer (insofar as the world’s offerings would lead us away from God—for a judicious use of creation and a proper valuation of it will increase our love and gratitude to God, thus keeping our focus on Him instead of becoming attached to material things).
All right, then. I “hate” my life here so I can have eternal life. I look to the unseen, to the eternal, to infinite truth, beauty, and goodness. I don’t want to lose that. So I’ll take a few losses to my own preferences and satisfactions and “pursuit of happiness” for now—because I’m pursuing the happiness that lasts forever.