God’s hatred is a necessary part of His love. Whatever opposes, harms, defiles or otherwise threatens what He loves experiences His displeasure, often erupting in righteous indignation: a divine demand for change. We could say that God’s hatred is an ally of His love, destroying those things which are destructive of the true, the good and the beautiful. People who love what God loves are told to hate what He hates, or those who hate Him (Prv 8:13; Ps 139:21-22).
God hates several things: pride, lying, murder, evil thoughts, evil inclinations, bearing false witness, sowing discord among brethren (Prov 6:16-19), formalistic worship masking wicked living (Is 1:14), idolatry (Dt 16:22), and divorce (Mal 2:16), amongst other things. In fact, most every reference to something or someone being “an abomination to the Lord” refers to something that is loathsome or detestable to Him, a strong indicator of His hatred.
But the thorny question is this: does God hate individuals? Could a God of love hate people?
A plain reading of Scripture seems to indicate that, at least in some ways, He does. God is said to hate all workers of iniquity (Ps 5:5), and everyone who is wicked and loves violence (Ps 11:5). God told Israel that He hated the nations He was casting out before them (Lev 20:23). God said to Hosea that He hated Ephraim (Hos 9:15). He loved Jacob and hated Esau (Mal 1:3-4). Even where the word for hatred suggests something weaker than antipathy, one can hardly doubt that God directs this affection towards individuals and groups of people, not merely actions.
How do we reconcile God’s love for all men (John 3:16; 1 Tim 2:4) with His apparent hatred of people? One common suggestion is that the Bible is merely referring to God’s hatred of the person’s actions, where the action and the person are identified as one, but only the action is meant. But this only raises another question: can one make a sharp distinction between the sinner and his sin? And, more importantly, does God do so?
While it could be plausibly argued that an omniscient God is able to perfectly separate the sinner from his sin, the real question is whether God seems to do so in Scripture. On the contrary, Scripture often speaks of sinners and their sin in the same breath (Rom 1:29-32; 2 Tim 3:2-5). God’s wrath rests on both the sin (Rom 1:18-23) and the sinner (Rom 1:24-32). Furthermore, God does not send sin to Hell; He sends sinners there. It was not merely man’s sin in the abstract that was punished on the cross, it was Christ the Person suffering as the substitute for persons who are sinners. As one said, “There is no abstract sin that can be hated apart from the persons in whom that sin is represented and embodied.”
While a distinction between sinner and sin is a handy one for protecting the individual from God’s hatred, it simply cannot bear up under the weight of Scriptural evidence which has God showing hatred, or wrath, resting on individuals. Jesus condemns people as workers of iniquity (Lk 13:27), and will take personal vengeance on those who reject God (2 Thes 1:8). Deuteronomy 28:63 describes God’s joy in destroying those who are disobedient, which would be very hard to square with the idea of God hating the sin but loving the sinner. Even secular psychologists report a general difficulty with the idea of separating sin and sinner.
A more satisfying answer as to how a loving God can hate individual sinners than the division between doer and deed is to say that human beings are more than one thing. They are sinners, to be sure, but they are also made in God’s image (Jas 3:9; Gen 1:26). Insofar as the imago Dei is never erased, God cannot completely abhor the individual human. Augustine, when dealing with alms-giving, came close to this idea: “So then, we are not to support sinners, precisely insofar as they are sinners; and yet because they are also human beings, we must treat them too with human consideration.”
In other words, what it means to be God is to be able to love and hate sinners simultaneously. We’ll consider this possibility next.