CultureWatch

Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

Love and Hate in an Age of Tolerance

Feb 22, 2007

A poster which has recently been displayed outside of some Australian churches has caused a fair bit of controversy. The large outdoor posters feature the words, “Jesus loves Osama”. A Baptist church in Sydney, for example, displayed the poster, only to be criticised by Prime Minister Howard for doing so.

A lively debate in both the mainstream and religious press ensued, with both defenders and detractors of the controversial statement.

There are several ways in which one can approach this topic. One is to simply examine the general concepts of such things as love, hate and evil, and how they fare in contemporary Western culture. Suffice it to say that they do not hold up very well in a climate of fuzzy thinking and mushy moralising. Love for example is often misunderstood and watered down into a sloppy sentimentalism.

And in an age which extols such values as tolerance, diversity and Political Correctness, there certainly seems to be little place for such things as hatred or judgmentalism.

Moreover, the idea of evil has been largely abandoned. In an age of moral relativism, many dismiss the very notion of evil. And most cannot even bring themselves to say that there might actually be evil people in the world. Instead, there are only victims, misguided people, those lacking in education, and so on. Any bad actions tend to be put down to a lousy upbringing, a poor self-image, or are seen as the fault of society, and so on.

Indeed, the very idea that there is real evil in the world is problematic for many. But for all the moral myopia around, one can still argue that Nazism was evil, or that what happened on 9/11 was evil. And evil must be properly shunned, resisted and condemned. We simply should not tolerate evil.

But in our age it is very hard to get people to disapprove of anything. Perhaps the only thing people disapprove of today is when other people disapprove of something. Moral relativism has so permeated contemporary culture that many are hard pressed to condemn any activity. We are told to tolerate all things, and about the only thing we do not tolerate is the so-called intolerance found in others.

Biblical Considerations

One can also assess the church bulletin board message in the light of the teachings of biblical Christianity. The Bible is quite clear on the fact that hate can be a valid attitude to take. God himself is said to hate certain things. Consider just a few passages:

“For I, the LORD, love justice; I hate robbery and iniquity.” (Isaiah 61:8)
“Again and again I sent my servants the prophets, who said, ‘Do not do this detestable thing that I hate!’” (Jeremiah 44:4)
“‘Do not plot evil against your neighbour, and do not love to swear falsely. I hate all this,’ declares the LORD.” (Zechariah 8:17)

And God’s people are also called to hate certain things. In Proverbs we are told that “To fear the LORD is to hate evil” (Prov. 8:13) Paul clearly tells us in Romans 12:9 to “hate that which is evil”. Many other examples could be produced. Also in the New Testament, the believers in the church in Ephesus are praised by Jesus because they hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, practices which Jesus says he also hates (Revelation 2:6).

But there is more to it than this. While many people – both religious and non-religious – might find it offensive and unacceptable, Scripture even tells us that on occasion God hates certain people. Several times in the Old Testament God says that he hates Israel (Jeremiah 12:8; Hosea 9:15). And there are times when God is said to hate the wicked, such as in Psalm 5:5 and 11:5.

While we do not have any clear record in the New Testament of God or Jesus hating anyone, we did already mention Jesus’ hatred of the Nicolaitan practices. And he was obviously quite unhappy with the practices of the money changers in the temple in particular, and that of the Scribes and Pharisees in general.

But I have been just looking at one word here, hate. The idea of the wrath of God and his judgment is much broader of course, and carries through both Testaments. Consider just two images of God’s judgment: fire and sword. They are found extensively throughout the Old Testament. But they certainly do not disappear in the New. Jesus himself continues the tradition. In Matthew 10:34 he says that he came not “to bring peace to the earth . . . but a sword.” And in Luke 12:49 he says “I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled.”

Of course his mission to execute God’s judgment on earth needs to be seen in the light of the cross. Jesus bore the full judgment of God for our sins so that we do not have to. But if we refuse his means of mercy, then judgment still looms. And recall that Jesus spoke about hell more than any other New Testament writer.

What About Us?

So where does all this leave believers today? Am I suggesting that Christians should hate? No. But I do want to get away from the sloppy sentimentalism that many Christians often gravitate toward. We do not need to shy away from proclaiming that there really is evil in the world, that many activities are evil, and that certain people can rightly be described as evil. Stalin was certainly evil. So was Hitler. And so too is Osama bin Laden.

Of course having said that, we must repeat the biblical assessment that ultimately we are all evil. We are all sinners who deserve the wrath of God. But because of the great mercy and love of God, we have been offered a way to escape our just punishment. That is because God has suffered for us, putting the punishment for our sins on his own son, so that we do not have to remain enemies of God.

God does love mankind, and offers gracious forgiveness. But not everyone will accept that forgiveness. Thus not all will avoid facing a lost eternity, separated from God and his love. His justice is never for one moment minimised while his lavish grace, mercy and love are extended to us.

Concerning the alleged differences between the Old and New Testaments, it is false to suggest that the former is full of God’s wrath while the latter is full of his love. It is more accurate to say that the Old Testament is as full of the love and mercy of God as the New Testament is full of the judgment and wrath of God. These unchanging characteristics of God are found equally in both Testaments.

Having said that, we need to remember that there is also continuity and discontinuity between the two Testaments. As an example, Jesus could say the following: “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: ‘Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you’.” (Matthew 5:43-44) Love for one’s enemies is not so much a repudiation of the Old Testament revelation of God, but its (mis)understanding by Jewish religious leaders of the time (nowhere in the Old Testament is one told to hate one’s enemies).

Moreover, there is both a social and personal ethic found in Scripture. As such, Jesus could speak about turning the other cheek, while Paul could say that God has authorised the state for the punishment of evil. The two are not to be confused. Both have a role to play and the one does not cancel out the other.

For example, let’s say that I am the subject of a violent armed assault, leaving me seriously injured. I can, and should, as a Christian, forgive my attacker, but the state still has an obligation to punish the wrongdoing that was committed. I can refrain from pressing charges against my assailant if I like. However, I also have a right to let the government of the day deal with this person according to the laws of the land. There is no conflict between personal forgiveness and the state-appointed administration of justice.

Conclusion

Yes, God loves everyone. But he truly hates evil, and he has made it clear that sin must be punished. The good news is that Jesus bore the brunt of God’s wrath for our sins so that we can find reconciliation with God. But if we reject the divine means by which such mercy can be found, there still awaits judgment to come.

And as believers we can offer personal forgiveness, while governments can act as God’s ministers to maintain justice and execute judgment. The two are not contradictory but complementary.

Thus in one sense God does love Osama. But he hates what he has done. But because he is holy and pure, he of necessity hates all sin. That includes every one of us. Fortunately he has made a way for us to still be accepted in his sight. But that does not rule out the role of the state in establishing justice on earth and resisting evil.

God can therefore love Osama while governments in good conscience (and by divine approval) can go after him. I find no problem as a believer in saying that the world will be a better place when he is finally captured or killed. Getting rid of him will be a just activity, but it will not minimise God’s love and mercy. They work together.

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19 Responses to Love and Hate in an Age of Tolerance

  • I couldn’t help but get the feeling that you are trying hard to say “we should love all people, including terrorists” but it is still ok to hunt them down and kill them (so long as a government does that). There is certainly truth in the tension that the bible requires us as individuals to turn the other cheek and love our enemies, while governments can do things that individuals cant (to maintain order). But why did you include the bracket at the end that governments going after Osama, do so with “divine approval”? I trust you meant it in a general sense: governments are meant to promote stability and peace and justice, therefore if things interupt that they have a kind of divine approval to oppose such things. But surely you did not mean specifically Osama. God has not sent someone a specific word: “hunt and kill Osama and let that overflow into Iraq and maybe even Iran and so what if thousands of civilians die in the chash. I have commanded it” (that sort of thing). It still gets messy of course: some might say that George Bush is a terrible blight on the world and the most unstable leader in the world at the moment, and that his atrocities are so great that he should be hunted down and killed for the sake of stability. All slaughter of civilians whether in New York on Sep 11, or in Bagdad last week, is evil. If we participate in spreading evil, can we be hunted down and kiled by other governments?
    Jim Reiher, Victoria

  • Thanks Jim

    Yes I did mean that remark in a general sense, so thanks for helping me to clarify that.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Hi Bill,
    Welcome back! I would say the poster, “Jesus loves Osama” was foolish. Yes it caught people’s attention. Makes us think, and hey, the Muslims will give these churches a tick. The problem is that it is hugely reductionist. I hope the next poster to replace that one might be “Take care! Repent! Jesus will be the Judge on the last Day” or something along those lines. Perhaps: “Pray for Osama that he should repent and acknowledge Jesus came in human flesh”. Now that should provoke an interesting response!
    David Palmer, Melbourne

  • Bill
    The dichotomy here is between the sin and the sinner. We can hate the sin but love the sinner. You can hate evil but love those who do it. Loving the person in a Christain sense does not ever mean we condone what the person may do. Rather it follows Christ’s commandment of “love one another as I have loved you “. And he asked God for the forgiveness of those who put him to death. That may not have been understood as an act of wisdom. But God’s wisdom is greater than ours and we are asked as followers of Him to trust in Him and pray. Amazing things have happened in this world through prayer. The fact that God allows evil in this world is to challenge our faith, to put it to the test to see if we are ready when we die to enter the kingdom prepared for us.
    So yes we love our enemies but as JFK once said – love your enemies but don’t forget who they are. It is OK to hate what Osama bin Laden does and what he represents but he is a child of God, as was Stalin, Hitler, Judas and others who did evil in history. We should be clear as to what evil is and not to suffer the paralysis or moral relativism as Bill says so many do today. Recogition of evil and condemning it is not condemning the person. God will make those judgements when the persons’ time comes. And of course in the meantime States can deal with offenders in accordance with moral laws.
    David Grace

  • My position is that the poster should have said “Pray for Osama’s salvation”. I urge Christian friends to pray for Richard Dawkins, Deepak Chopra, Shirley MacLaine, etc. Imagine these people getting saved! Their testimonies will be the greatest for all mankind to hear!!

    Regards, Sophie Firmin

  • Bill,
    I take umbrage with your statement that “ultimately we are all evil”. We are definitely all sinful, but equally we are definitely not all evil.
    Made in the image of Christ we cannot be evil. What makes an individual evil is the extent to which he or she rejects the love and saving power of Christ.
    Osama,as a man made in the image of Christ, was not made evil, but it is evident from the course of his life that he has deliberately chosen to adopt a course of action which is evil in the extreme.
    One of the affirmations of faith in the Catholic Church is posed by the question:
    “Do you reject Satan and all his works?”
    For this question there can only be one answer, “Yes”.
    There is no room for a “Maybe”, or for “It depends upon..”
    As Christ said , If your neither not nor cold I will spit you out.
    Applying the above to Osama should lead us to hate the sin and the evil that Osama commits but to love Osama the sinner enough to pray that God exercises his Love/Justice/Mercy on the soul of Osama.
    My hatred for the sins committed by Osama makes it impossible for me to forgive the sinner, but then its only Gods forgiveness that we all need to pray for.
    John Ryan

  • Some strange theology espoused by your correspondents here Bill. e.g. The reason “God allows evil in this world is to challenge our faith” and “We are definitely all sinful, but equally we are definitely not all evil.”

    But back to the point – I agree with Rev Palmer. The poster was foolish and unnecessarily provocative. The Osama poster is a good example of the superficial sentimental and politically-correct form of Christianity we have come to expect from many of our churches these days. Here’s my suggestion for the next poster: “Osama needs to Repent and so do YOU!”

    Ewan McDonald, Victoria

  • So God loves Osama but does not approve of his actions?

    Pretty standard fare.

    But does God expect you and me to love Osama, to pray for him to be blessed, and to do good to him even though he does (or would) spitefully abuse us? Yes or no?

    Does God’s love mean that right now God extends His offer of mercy to Osama without requiring him to perform some act(s) of compensation to earn it. Yes or no?

    And if Osama was inclined to receive that mercy God would no longer deem him guilty of his crimes against humanity? Surely He will not forget that he was worse than you and I? Yes or no?

    Perhaps my (rather obvious) probing is not well expressed, but I think you understand what I am getting at. This is the shocking feature of Christianity that some wish did not exist.

    And how should I and everyone behave towards Osama if he was to repent and accept that free gift …

    Dale Flannery

  • Thanks Dale

    Yes and no. God’s forgiving love is certainly amazing, but it is not divorced from his justice and righteousness. If Osama did become a believer today, his sins would be forgiven by God. But the state still has a God-ordained obligation to hold him accountable for his crimes.

    If an atheist attempts to murder you today but fails, then becomes a Christian tomorrow, you may forgive him, as God forgives him, but that does not mean he no longer faces the consequences of his actions. The state can still try him for attempted murder.

    In the same way, if a non-believer smokes three packs of cigs a day, then becomes a Christian, he may well still die prematurely because of his past nicotine addiction, even if he quits smoking the day he is saved. Actions have consequences, in other words, and becoming a believer and receiving God’s forgiveness does not automatically mean all the consequences for our past wrong actions miraculously disappear.

    Sure, it is possible that God could heal this new convert. But it is just as likely that the new believer will simply have to bear the consequences of his past actions.

    As a final example, I know of a former IRA member who had killed several people. After becoming a Christian, he did not glibly assume that he could now go scot free for his actions. He turned himself in, and is now serving a prison term. Yes, God has forgiven him, but he rightly recognises he has a debt he owes to society. He did not believe his new citizenship in heaven released him from his responsibilities as a citizen of this world.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Hi Bill,

    Thank you for this. When this all blew up, I felt very frustrated with the mindset of many Christians which says that they can “make a grand statement” just to make everyone react – and that it is somehow clever to do so. They, like Osama, are accountable for the way their words impact people’s lives – whether they draw people closer to the Kingdom of Heaven or place an even bigger divide between them. “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”

    I would suggest that more prayer be put into every public statement/outreach and that we support one another in prayer until we gain much wisdom in how to relate to those around us.

    If we want to be cute or divisive, we are not doing the work of the Lord. If we submit to His bidding, we will reach the hurting world around us for the better.

    Sue Pollock

  • Hi Bill
    Thanks for responding. I don’t yet completely understand where you are going. Do you actively love your enemy Osama, will you pray for him to be blessed, are you going to do good to him? Yes or no (or perhaps ‘Yes and no’)?
    Kind regards
    Dale Flannery

    P.S. Though I commend the ethics of the IRA hit-man you mentioned, wasn’t St. Paul complicit in the the murder of people in violation of Roman law before his conversion? Paul apparently did not think it was required by God for him to initiate prosecution in a Roman court for those crimes against the state. Your thoughts?

  • Whoever thought up the wording on that billboard was trying to be clever and catch the eye of passers-by. It certainly caught the eye all right, but missed the mark, and failed to convince.
    All it did was cause confusion and division. I would say to the writer “Don’t try to be too clever”. As an alternative how about “Jesus wants to forgive sinners, even YOU”.
    AA Hoysted

  • Thanks again Dale

    But I take biblical love to mean willing the highest good for the other person. Thus I would like to see Osama become a believer, sure, but that does not mean he gets off the hook if he does. If he becomes a believer, great, but he still must face the music.

    That is the biblical understanding of government, and I have no problem with holding to both positions simultaneously. Perhaps you are having difficulty in reconciling love and justice. God does not see the two as mutually exclusive, and neither should his people.

    Without God’s very real help, I am not sure I “actively love” anyone, whatever that means. And what does “doing good to him” mean? Loving him and doing good to him would seem to entail letting him know that what he is doing is wrong and that he is heading for a lost eternity. He needs to repent, become a follower of Jesus, and then be willing to accept the consequences of his actions.

    The early disciples were willing to do that as well. They knew that if at times they had to actively resist Roman laws in order to preach the gospel, they had to be willing to accept the consequences, e.g., spending some time in prison.

    As to Paul being “complicit in the murder of people” – it is an interesting question, but it simply raises more questions (based on Acts 26:10): Was Paul a member of the Sanhedrin? Was there in fact more than one death that he was involved in (besides Stephen)? Did he simply just give his assent to the death? Could Jews legally put people to death? Did the Roman rulers not think it was something requiring prosecution? We cannot really give any final answers to these sorts of questions.

    But the case of Saul/Paul does not seem to detract from anything I have said above.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Dear Bill,

    Thanks for your article – to me it is spot on! Can you tell me where I might be able to purchase the book you recommended in early Feb? It is called America Alone by Mark Steyn.

    Ta, Mark Young

  • Thanks Mark

    Some of the bigger and better book store chains such as Borders should have it. Certainly it can be picked up through amazon.com

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Moreover, the idea of evil has been largely abandoned. In an age of moral relativism, many dismiss the very notion of evil. And most cannot even bring themselves to say that there might actually be evil people in the world. Instead, there are only victims, misguided people, those lacking in education, and so on. Any bad actions tend to be put down to a lousy upbringing, a poor self-image, or are seen as the fault of society, and so on.

    Yes, evil definitely exists – we acknowledge that constantly through the media and through literature, but it must always have a CAUSE – namely a lack of education, a turbulent upbringing, misguidance etc. Evil, violent acts are still inexcusable. It is these roots that must be adressed alongside the ‘evil acts’.

    Zenobia Frost

  • Thanks Zenobia

    Evil certainly exists, and lack of education, etc., may well be components of it. But I would argue that the root cause is much deeper. It is what the Bible calls sin, or what we can call selfishness. It is a problem that plagues every one of us, and unfortunately self-cures are insufficient here. That is why God took the radical step of sending his son to finally deal with the sin issue. Acknowledging our own sin, receiving the forgiveness offered in Christ, and allowing him to be the boss of our lives is the first step in curtailing evil.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Jim Reiher is a candidate for the Green Party, which has as its official platform hunting down and killing “unwanted” unborn babies.
    Jonathan Sarfati, Brisbane

  • I’ve participated in a discussion on this on another site where there were mostly non-Christians who were also passionate Conservatives and their reactions to this poster displayed what is essentially wrong with the poster. They saw it as provocative in that it seemed to align itself with the antiwar Left, thereby ingratiating itself with the MSM and the prevailing political climate.
    In my opinion, it was a question of focus. As Bill pointed out so well above, it’s one thing to love the sinner but… And that ‘but’ should always hang there, for although God unconditionally loves us, the love of God is not what we have come to interpret as love in our permissive culture. For many people, love means being let off the hook, coddled, spoilt, which comes from our indoctrination by the spirit of the age. God’s love is red hot and not averse to sending us to eternal damnation if we choose not to follow the rules.
    Nowhere does this sign give the necessary ‘but’ which would clarify that the love is a Biblical love and nothing less.
    Dee Graf

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