A friend of mine recently let me know that Milo Yiannopoulos is working on a new book, Make America Hate Again, which appears to be a Christian exhortation to hatred. From the looks of it, it’s shaping up to be about as provocative as one would expect considering the author.
But hatred is a concept that American Christians ought to seriously reconsider–with or without Milo’s usual flair. After all, the postmodern world has transmuted “hatred” into buzzword conjured by social justice warriors using a dozen different flavors of Critical Theory as reagents. They continuously signal their virtues by vocally opposing this sort of hatred whenever they think they may be noticed doing so. And worldly Christians, of course, slavishly follow this trail blazed by the politically fashionable.
But how should faithful Christians think of hatred?
There is still the temptation to simply agree with the world on this one. After all, God is love, right? And hate is the opposite of love, right? So clearly Christians should also see hatred as pure evil, right? Well that’s not what God says about Himself, as a quick trip through Scripture will make plain.
To be sure, it’s easy enough to find verses that condemn hatred.
Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all offenses.
Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him.
Whoever does not love abides in death. Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.
1 John 3:14b-15
You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason frankly with your neighbor, lest you incur sin because of him.
For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit.
But it’s also easy enough to find verses that approve of and even command hatred:
The fear of the Lord is hatred of evil.
Hate evil, and love good, and establish justice in the gate.
Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent. Yet this you have: you hate the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.
O you who love the Lord, hate evil! He preserves the life of his saints; he delivers them from the hand of the wicked.
So it would seem that hatred is a “sometimes food” for the Christian. We are to hate the correct things in the correct way and refrain from hating the wrong things or in the wrong way. Accordingly, this is a matter that calls for wisdom and discernment rather than merely proof-texting.
The conventional version of that wisdom is often summed up with a very popular phrase: “Hate the sin; love the sinner.” In other words, Christians are right to hate evil deeds, but we must stop short of hating the people who do them. While you won’t find that phrase anywhere in the Bible, it does enjoy a certain pedigree, as St. Augustine coined a very similar phrase, “love for mankind and hatred for sins.”
And really, it is a decent proverb, so long as it isn’t misused. God called all of His creation very good. That includes humans. Accordingly, a man’s existence is good, while the disordering of that existence is evil. But that can’t really be the whole of the matter either. After all, God clearly does not limit Himself in this way. He sometimes describes Himself as hating the sinner along with the sin.
For you are not a God who delights in wickedness; evil may not dwell with you. The boastful shall not stand before your eyes; you hate all evildoers. You destroy those who speak lies; the Lord abhors the bloodthirsty and deceitful man.
“Is not Esau Jacob’s brother?” declares the Lord. “Yet I have loved Jacob but Esau I have hated. I have laid waste his hill country and left his heritage to jackals of the desert.” If Edom says, “We are shattered but we will rebuild the ruins,” the Lord of hosts says, “They may build, but I will tear down, and they will be called ‘the wicked country,’ and ‘the people with whom the Lord is angry forever’.”
And while I could recall no explicit exhortations for Christians to hate persons, there are the imprecatory Psalms to consider. These are prayers we have been given by God to pray, and yet they contain things like this:
Oh that you would slay the wicked, O God! O men of blood, depart from me! They speak against you with malicious intent; your enemies take your name in vain! Do I not hate those who hate you, O Lord? And do I not loathe those who rise up against you? I hate them with complete hatred; I count them my enemies.
So once again, proof-texting has failed us, and so we must rely on God’s promise that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. Upon reflection, I find that it’s not the collection of out-of-context verses I’ve presented that are confused, but rather our own shallow understanding of hatred.
I call it shallow because we generally think of hatred the way a child does: double-plus-dislike. But that’s not the extent of what’s going on in any of the verses I’ve cited so far. Hatred typically involves some intense emotions to be sure (e.g Psalm 139,) but the core of hatred is not a matter of feelings, but a matter of dedicated and unrelenting opposition. It’s matter of making oneself an implacable enemy to the object of your hatred. There are many reasons a person might commit themselves to such a course–not just some kind of personal animosity, prejudice, or lust for violence. When we go back to the verses above with a broader understanding of hate, we start to understand how they all fit together.
The forbidden kinds of hatred are very clear. When we put ourselves in opposition to our brothers, we stir up strife, but loving forgiveness and reconciliation can heal the offenses which divide us. If we commit ourselves to destroying our brothers’ well-being, we have broken the 5th Commandment. We reason with our neighbors when we have disputes instead of making them our mortal enemies. We do not spoil our children because we intensely dislike them, but by spoiling them we set ourselves against them by catastrophically undermining their well-being.
But the enjoined kinds of hatred are clear as well. If we fear God, then we naturally hate whatever evil opposes Him. We are to deliberately and relentlessly oppose evil when it confronts us. When we oppose evil and love good, we establish justice as a result. We should stand up to oppose false teachers like the Nicolaitans, and when our brothers in Christ are under assault, we stand with them in faithful opposition to those who would do them harm.
As for God’s hatred of persons, He absolutely opposes evildoers rather than merely opposing sin as some kind of abstraction. That doesn’t mean He intensely and personally dislikes sinners. On the contrary, He tells us that He so loves sinners that he sent His only Son to die for them. Likewise, He takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but wants all to repent. Nevertheless, God does set Himself in opposition to many people–both individuals and nations. He raises up many a Jacob but casts down many an Esau. He brings destruction on those who persist in their wickedness.
And that brings us to our final question: Should Christians likewise hate evildoers rather than merely hating evil?
In many respects, the answer is no. We are not God and should not put ourselves in His place. But as is so often the case with proper Biblical ethics, the complete answer is a matter of vocation. Just as God has sometimes called us to do violence or to resist governing authorities, so also we must sometimes hate evildoers when and only when it’s our job to do so.
The soldier, for example, must hate the enemy soldiers–not necessarily in the sense of cultivating personal dislike or national animosity, but in the sense of seeking their destruction. Likewise, the judge must hate the guilty. However he feels about the man on trial, its his job to see him convicted and ultimately punished if he has indeed broken the law. The father also must hate those who are trying to harm or corrupt his wife and children, for it is his job to protect and defend those in his care. (And this vocation of father is much broader than the modern world would have us believe.) Whether through these vocations or others, God has given us work to do in this world, and sometimes hatred is our business.
Even in such cases, we should have a care because any vocational hatred we may develop needs to be laid down when we’re “off the clock.” The judge needs to give up his hatred of the convict when he’s off the bench and sees him in his neighborhood. The soldier needs to give up his hatred of the enemy when either he or the enemy soldier has been discharged. When his family is safe again, the father must forgive the man who tried to harm them.
These are not always easy transitions to make. Therefore, we must be careful to avoid cultivating the kinds of hatred that make the transition harder. God has not told us that we must be dispassionate machines in these vocations who never dislike our enemies or feel joy over harming them. Nevertheless, the more visceral and personal we allow a hatred to become, the harder it is to let go. Lutheran theologians often call the judgment of the wicked God’s “alien work.” Vocational hatred should be just as alien to us.
All that said, more often than not we hate without any direction from the Lord. We hate because we were wronged. We hate because we were offended. We hate because we were reminded of unpleasant truths. We hate because we are envious. We hate because we are entitled. We hate because we are prejudiced. The list goes on and on, but none of those things give us any authority to relentlessly oppose the ones who have done us harm. It’s not a matter of whether the harm is real or imagined, but of what God has actually called us to do about it.
Apart from more specific vocations, this is our calling:
You have heard that it was said, “you shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes the sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.
We all have enemies, and we have all suffered some degree of wrongdoing. Nevertheless, the Bible consistently teaches us to leave it to the Lord to avenge such things. We ought to pray that God would do so, and sometimes we might even use the kind of colorful language we read in the Psalms. But retribution remains God’s responsibility, not ours. Sometimes He does delegate temporal retribution to temporal authorities, and sometimes we are those authorities. But eternally, He avenged all of that wrongdoing by sending His Son to die for us. That blessed retribution should always color the way that we perceive any wrong done against us.
The Cross does not remove all temporal responsibilities anymore than it does temporal consequences of sin. It does not require armies to disband or prisons to shut down. But if any man makes a decision to set himself against another to destroy him, he had best be certain that God has given him that authority, or he will incur judgment against himself. Accordingly, it does not befit a Christian to look for excuses to hate, as we are constantly tempted to do. After all, the only thing worse than a busybody is a hateful busybody.
On the other hand, if God has given a Christian the responsibility to hate, then he had best carry it out to his utmost. We overcome evil with good, but not necessarily with niceness. Understanding our vocations and what they require of us is precisely how we manage to love our enemies without hating our friends.
May God gives all of us wisdom to carry out this difficult charge.