“Hatred is not a creative force. Love alone creates. Suffering will not prevail … it only melts us down and strengthens us.” — Maximilian Kolbe (1894-1941)

Kolbe, a Polish priest, died in the place of another man in the German death camp of Auschwitz. Franciszek Gajowniczek was chosen for the starvation bunker. When he cried out, “My wife! My children!” Kolbe was moved with compassion. He volunteered to take his place. Kolbe survived the two-week sentence and was put to death by lethal injection.

The hatred others held stirred Kolbe’s soul. It opened his consciousness to the evil around him. The Christian faith he confessed produced a form of love so profound that it created life for another. This divinely inspired love became his courage and turned his attention to the liberating promise of God’s faithful presence. This deepened his compassion and became his strength. Even in chains, Kolbe was free.

Hatred has the power to stir our souls, whether it comes from others or from ourselves. But hatred cannot offer solutions. It can only construct hate-filled systems or embolden hate-formed impulses. Violence will breeds more violence. Division creates more division. Antagonism fuels more antagonism. Hatred cannot create life. Only love can do that.

Hatred will make promises. It will promise feelings of satisfaction once vengeance is served. It will promise that the weight will be lifted once it’s tossed onto another more deserving of the burden. But hatred always makes promises it can’t keep. Only love can do that.

But love must be more than mere sentimentality. It cannot be a love that does what is easy or convenient, but what is right even when it’s hard. It’s what the ancient Greeks called agape, an understanding of love grounded in a commitment to the goodwill of all and seeks nothing in return. From the Christian faith tradition, it understands love in this way: we love someone not because we like or approve of them, but because God loves them. As one follower of Jesus wrote, “We love because God first loved us.” This is the kind of love that is faithful, liberates, heals and creates.

Kolbe understood that to be loved by God is to be liberated, and this liberation becomes our transformation — transforming us into the kind of people capable of courage and compassion. It doesn’t have to be as audacious as what Kolbe ultimately displayed in this final act of love. If you were to look into his life you would find that this act of love was made possible by countless other acts of love. It’s as if each choice to love extended to others in the mundane ordinariness of everyday life built up a resilience — a strength to love. Life-giving, truth-telling, trauma-healing, justice-seeking movements arise out of the kind of love that seems the goodwill of all and nothing in return.

It’s this kind of love that moves a New York man to break into a school so he and 10 strangers, including seven elderly neighbors, stranded by a blizzard can find safety.

Or more locally, it’s this kind of love that compels over a dozen churches in the Historic Triangle to rally congregants to open buildings and shelter neighbors living through houselessness throughout the winter months in partnership with Community of Faith Mission.

It’s this kind of love that organizes opportunities for all neighbors to work toward racial healing and together “build a bigger table,” like the programs led by the Virginia Racial Healing Institute.

It’s this kind of love that faithfully honors and documents the oral histories of town mothers and fathers to be learned by future generations, like the Local Black Histories Project led by The Village Initiative.

I could go on. And that’s just it — I really could name many neighbors and organizations working for the good of our community because of agape love. They believe what Kolbe believed long before Auschwitz, that only agape love can liberate and overcome hatreds of all kinds, making this the kind of love that creates.

That day, Kolbe didn’t choose life or death. He chose agape love over fear and hatred.

Today, the choice is ours.

The Rev. Fred Liggin is one of the pastors at Williamsburg Christian Church andfounder & co-executive director of Faith Community Development & Training with 3e Restoration Inc.