Every year we read John 12 during Lent and every year our priest gives us the same schpeel about hate, in this context, meaning "to love less".
Looking at the surrounding verses, Jesus is talking about giving up his own life for the sake of others, and calling on those who follow him to do likewise:
22Philip went and told Andrew; Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. 23And Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. 25Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him. ESV
This defines for us what the word 'hate' means in this context - and it does indeed seem to mean something like 'love less' (words often mean different things in different contexts).
But the point is not to dilute the impact and turn the command into something like "you may love yourself but love Jesus a little bit more", rather the warning is that unless we would give up our life for the sake of "bearing fruit" like Jesus, we should not imagine we will receive eternal life - would we hesitate facing this decision, or embrace death? This is a stark wake-up call, not an easy license to treat ourselves well.
Luke 14:26 has perhaps a similar usage of the word "hate".
Life hating you
John 7:7, 15:18 or Matthew 10:22 do not talk about hating life. They actually talk about life hating you. These words may not be true as a literal phenomenon, but they sure do tell you to be willing and ready to be hated and disliked in the course of fulfilling your ideals.
The other verses are Luke 14:26 and Matthew 10:37. I don't think these verses are about "loving less". Rather, the verses tell you to have your priorities right. And to take positive actions to fulfill those priorities.
Translate every instance of the word "hate" into "abandon".
Let us say these are my ideals in order of priorities
- Preservation of human life and opposition to abortion.
- Live a frugal life to conserve the environment.
- Right of gays to marry
- Vote Republican to ensure integrity of govt and economy.
Say, I absolutely love these ideals and will never abandon them.
Hypothetically say, I found out that Republican ideals would destroy the environment and exacerbate global warming and hence kill millions of born/unborn babies world wide. (Pardon me for the hypothetical statement). I have to ask myself, am I willing to abandon the Republican party in order to preserve my top priority of preservation of life?
If I love the gays and has made it my passionate activism to ensure their right to marriage. However hypothetically, say that I find that voting in their favour strongly correlates to the success of the pro-choice lobby. Am I willing to abandon my love for them in order not to further weaken pro-life support?
Therefore, it is not about loving less. I think it is about loving more at every opportunity you have. However, are you willing to abandon that love when it interferes with your top priority.
Recognizing the inequalities of conflicts
As you can see in the above highly politicized allegory, you can lay out the following equations/inequalities
- E1. loving 4 would strengthen loving 1.
- E2. loving 3 would weaken loving 2.
- E3. weakening loving 2 would weaken loving 1.
- E4. weakening loving 3 would strengthen loving 1.
- E5. weakening loving 3 weaken loving 2.
- E5.1 weakening loving 2 would weaken loving 1.
In any of the above equations E1 - E5.1, you cannot afford to love less. You can see the conflicts in the allegorical example. And you have to resolve your actions and constantly renormalize your perspective in how you treat your ideals.
You have to love to the max that you can. You have to use some form of mechanism to optimise the combination and variation of your network of ideals to maximize your love for Love #1.
Increasing the supply could decrease its value
If I am so fixated in loving my life in abandonment of all other priorities and dynamics, the world around me will crumble and I will lose my life. If I am fixated on activism for gay rights in abandonment of other ideals - whatever hard work I have put in for gay rights activism will crumble and come to naught.
There is a network relationship (not a hierarchical tree relationship) interacting with each other. And you have to be ready to abandon your fixation and be on the go in order to maximize your love for your network of ideals. You have to know your priorities and be willing to use your brain to employ optimization principles to achieve that. Because the relationships are a network graph rather than a simpler hierarchical tree, you can't love less by using the comparison of ideals as a guide.
Being adaptive so as to maximize love for ideals
The Israeli sojourn in the desert for 40 years was a deliberate and fulfilling action. No one failed in order to cause a punishment consequence of having the Israelite spend 40 years in the desert. It was to imbue into the expectation of Jews to be always on the go.
The last night in Egypt, and instructions of getting ready on the minute, the exiling and returning is to imbue the Jews and people who study the history of Jews to be imbued with constant readiness, to be adaptive and not to be fixated on any ideology or state of mind.
To be imbued with a culture that will be spontaneous in recognizing and resolving conflicts. To have a spontaneous culture in constructing the most optimal conditions and relationship for the maximum survival of the ideals that they love so much.
To be ready for any moments when those who professed to love you would turn against you.
Conflicts frequently cannot be resolved but we can resolve our perspective and hence actions towards those conflicts.
All we need is love
In both cases (of hating life and life hating you) it actually is about love. One is about resolving confusion in the absence of love and the other is about resolving the conflicting presence of love. The absence of an electron in field of electron, results in an electron hole carrying the same charge as the absent electron in the opposite direction. The absence of love in a field of love results in a void similar to the absent love in the other direction = hate.
My apologies for using such a complicated and politically charged but provoking allegory to illustrate my complex explanation. The intent was to illustrate the realities of very obfuscated situations.