The Complexity of Hating What God Hates
No one should love what God hates. No one should hate what God loves. But, as we have seen, God has the ability to love and hate at the same time. It is this conscious simultaneity that we lack, and which adds such difficulty to our understanding of hate.
We have seen the kind of hate which is forbidden: irrational, baseless hate, personal animosity or malice, and hatred of something precious to God. We have seen some of the hates commanded by God: hating evil, hating God-hatred, hating false doctrine. Our difficulty is how to prevent holy hatred from becoming evil hatred; how to maintain a hatred for what God hates, while still loving what God loves.
We can picture the problem in thinking how to view a particularly heinous human being. If we imagine, say, an unrepentant child abuser, we should feel revulsion towards his acts. We should desire that his cruelty and selfish exploitation of the ignorance of little ones be stopped, and stopped permanently. We should desire a retribution commensurate with his crime.
But all this is true, because, unexpectedly, we still love him. We love the image of God in humans, and for that very reason, we demand that the man live up to that. We are angry exactly because he is not an irrational animal, and we expected him to behave humanely to other humans. Our demand for justice would be meaningless were he incapable of responsible choice, but is fitting precisely because we still think of him as human. Our love for him as a neighbour demands we do anything but dismiss him. We may punish him, incarcerate him, or execute him, but in each of these acts, we treat him according to his rank: an image-bearer.
Here is where we can see the great lovelessness of much liberalism. In attributing moral evil to psychological derangement, by explaining sin as a necessary result of environmental factors, by calling evil a ‘sickness’ or ‘disease’, they do not love our neighbour more, but less. For to the degree that we remove moral culpability from an adult, is the degree to which we remove humanness from him. The less responsible a man is, the more he moves towards the beasts and away from the angels. By excusing his sin with his genes and his biology, we have not liberated him, we have made him a slave of physical forces. By calling for rehabilitation, we are not offering a cure, but a life-sentence with the same sin. By insisting that society “tolerate” his sin, and referring to those who don’t as “haters”, we handcuff the man to his evil with the golden chains of society’s approval.
Christian love is real love precisely because it accords rank and dignity to humans and makes consequent demands upon them. The applications for Christians are obvious. We may feel revulsion, anger, distaste, and feel indignation towards moral sin and evil in the world. We are supposed to hate those things, and feel indignation that an image-bearer of God is deepening his union with rebellion against God. We can only do that, though, because we retain love for our neighbour. We believe “he is as we are”, and believe that he may, by the saving grace of God, leave corruption and embrace life.
Because we are also progressively being changed into Christ’s image, we should be aware of how imperfectly we perform this love and hate. Our moral outrage is quickly mixed with personal annoyance, pride, jealousy, revenge, malice, and haughtiness. This does not mean we should abandon the enterprise of loving what God loves and hating what God hates because we are likely to introduce sin. It means we attempt to be angry without sinning, without letting the sun go down upon our wrath (Eph 4:26). It means we consciously think of ways to display love to our enemy, to overcome what would become fleshly malice, if left to itself (Rom 12:19-21).
In fact, the most difficult love command is the command to love our enemies, for here love and hate meet in the same person. The Lord Jesus’ only explanation for how and why to love our enemies is simple: God also loves them, and meets their needs, ungrateful as they are. “for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” (Matt. 5:45). We are to love people who hate us or hate what we love, even while we hate their hate, and possibly, hate what they love. And we should expect that it will take growth and struggle to achieve this.
We are naive if we imagine that the world will understand this love and its concomitant hate. Theirs is a binary formula: niceness to all, and fury upon all who do not show niceness to all. Self-contradictory as it is, it is not open to reason. It may, however, be persuaded by beauty: “having your conduct honourable among the Gentiles, that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may, by your good [beautiful] works which they observe, glorify God in the day of visitation. (1 Pet. 2:12). They will likely slander all acts of judgement, discernment, and thoughtful discrimination as malicious hate, and they will likely not honour acts of love for what they are. Since that is the case, Christians should get on with loving what God loves, hating what God hates, and proving to the world that Christian love alone brings peace on earth, and goodwill to all.
About David de Bruyn
David de Bruyn pastors New Covenant Baptist Church in Johannesburg, South Africa. He is a graduate of Central Baptist Theological Seminary in Minnesota and the University of South Africa (D.Th.). Since 1999, he has presented a weekly radio program that is heard throughout much of central South Africa. He also blogs at Churches Without Chests.