And Jesus answered them, “See that no one leads you astray. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will lead many astray. And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are but the beginning of the birth pains. “Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake. And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.
— Matthew 24:4-13
Anymore, I’m always hearing about these being the last of the Last Days. With the Mayan calendar nonsense sucking in Christians and with handwringers already lamenting the as-yet-undecided outcome of the 2012 presidential election, apocalypse now isn’t just a movie title.
But wait a second. As much as we can’t stop talking about Those Other Guys Who Are Most Definitely NOT Us and their grown-cold love for God, are we reading that passage correctly?
Does it really say that the love of many for God will grow cold?
No, it doesn’t delineate what that love is or for whom. We are the ones reading God into that passage.
The fact is, the Bible never attempts the fission of love into factions, love for God versus love for people. Indeed, it explicitly states we must avoid that separation:
If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.
— 1 John 4:20
Could that possibly be more clear?
So how is it that we almost never talk of falling away from God in terms of falling away from loving other people?
And how is it that the comments on so many Christian websites are filled with supposed lovers of God channeling their ire toward their brothers and sisters in clearly hateful ways? How is it that supposed lovers of God can so gleefully rejoice when a foe gets his comeuppance? How is it that supposed lovers of God can be downright cheerful at the prospect of bombing other people “back to the Stone Age”?
I would suggest that perhaps the better way to determine if our love has grown cold is to ask how much we love people outside our immediate families, especially those we view as sinners. Even better, how much do we love our enemies? If the answer is not much, then perhaps we have already fallen away, no matter how loudly we sing in church or how many chapters of our Bibles we read religiously each day.
If we want to take the pulse of our times, if we want to be on the cutting edge of calling these the last of the Last Days, then perhaps the reality that most of us can’t get along with other people at all says more about the state of our souls than any other test for Christian perfection.
Because it’s not enough to talk about love for God growing cold. If those of us who claim we love God can’t even muster a warm smile for the checkout girl at the grocery store, then all the claims for loving God we espouse till we’re blue in the face won’t hide the fact that we have fallen away and don’t even know it.