(1Jo 2:9-11 ESV) 9 Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness. 10 Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling. 11 But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes.
Notice how dualistically John expresses himself. You either hate or love; there are no other possibilities. You are either in light or in darkness. There is no gray. You either have no cause for stumbling or else you don’t know where you are going and have been blinded.
“Cause for stumbling”
But, of course, I don’t feel love or hatred for everyone. As to most people, I’m indifferent. And even when the light is on, I sometimes stumble — because I’m not paying attention. He obviously doesn’t mean those in the light are sinless — as he just spent the end of chapter 1 making clear that we should never consider ourselves sinless. So if I still sin, how do I no longer stumble?
(Lev 19:14 ESV) You shall not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind, but you shall fear your God: I am the LORD.
Moses commanded the Israelites not to trick the blind, and surely this is the root of the expression.
(1Sa 18:21 ESV) Saul thought, “Let me give her to him, that she may be a snare for him and that the hand of the Philistines may be against him.” Therefore Saul said to David a second time, “You shall now be my son-in-law.”
Saul plotted against David by offering his daughter to him as wife — as a “snare” or a trap — with the ultimate goal of seeing David dead because his enemies would be more motivated to kill the king’s son-in-law.
(Psa 69:21-24 ESV) 21 They gave me poison for food, and for my thirst they gave me sour wine to drink. 22 Let their own table before them become a snare; and when they are at peace, let it become a trap. 23 Let their eyes be darkened, so that they cannot see, and make their loins tremble continually. 24 Pour out your indignation upon them, and let your burning anger overtake them.
David prays that those who poisoned him should falls into a trap and that God take vengeance against them for him.
(Psa 140:4-5 ESV) 4 Guard me, O LORD, from the hands of the wicked; preserve me from violent men, who have planned to trip up my feet. 5 The arrogant have hidden a trap for me, and with cords they have spread a net; beside the way they have set snares for me. Selah
David’s violent enemies set snares for him, not so that he’d trip but so he’d be captured and killed.
Now, in the New Testament, “stumbling block” sometimes means a temptation to sin, but it seems the usual Old Testament sense is a trap into death or capture — and Psalm 69 borrows the analogy to blindness. Therefore, I take John to be referring not to stumbling so as to sin but stumbling so as to fall away. The thought isn’t that those in the light are sinless but that Satan will not ensnare them into damnation.
That’s not to say that falling is impossible, but rather “there is no cause for stumbling.” I’m quite capable of landing on my face purely from my own clumsiness and inattention — even where there are no snares and nothing to stumble over other than own two feet.
Love and hate
So how can John assume that I either hate my brother or love him? Why isn’t indifference a possibility? I mean, I personally struggle much more with indifference than with hatred. After all, I have no desire to see ill befall my neighbors. But neither do I lose much sleep if it does. I have enough on my plate already …
But hate and indifference can be very much the same thing. You see, if you see a man drowning, and if you love him, you’ll try to save him. If you hate him, you watch and maybe laugh. If you’re indifferent, you’ll just go about your business. The man drowns whether you hate him or are indifferent. He only lives if you love him.
We live in a world filled with drowning people. And in such a world, indifference is the functional equivalent of hatred.
John says of those in darkness, “the darkness has blinded his eyes.” I can have perfect vision and, yet, in darkness I’ll not be able to see. But John says that spiritual darkness blinds us. Let me suggest two reasons —
First, if we are outside Christ, we don’t have the light of God. We can see the world through gospel-enabled eyes. We won’t see the drowning as drowning. We won’t see the saved as saved. We won’t be able to distinguish good from bad, temporary from permanent, foolish from wise.
Second, Paul explains —
(Rom 1:21-25 ESV) 21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. 24 Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, 25 because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.
There is the special grace that only Christians receive, and there is a “common grace” that all in the world enjoys because God is present in the world. We can’t imagine how bad things would be if God abandoned us altogether. It would, in fact, be hell.
Sometimes, when people abandon God, he abandons them. It’s not that he is unwilling to save them, but rather that he allows them to suffer the natural consequences of their chosen lives, to demonstrate what leaving God does to someone. He allows them to become what they’ve chosen: people of darkened hearts, that is, blind. He allows the darkness to overtake them. God doesn’t make them blind. Rather, like cave-dwelling fish who go blind in the darkness, he allows those who prefer to live apart from God to become blind — which is their natural state.