In Part One of this article I offered around a hundred Bible passages which speak about God hating certain things and certain people, and how his people can also follow him in this. The biblical material on this is pretty clear. But now we must examine exactly how we are to understand and apply these Scriptural truths.
There is a right and wrong way in which we can run with all this. It should be obvious that I am not saying that Christians should be haters and go around hating on others etc. But as the biblical data makes clear, there is a sense in which we are to hate. So getting this matter right is imperative.
Let me look at a few of these particular passages, and then finish with some broader considerations, with the help of some noted Christian theologians. Let me first mention Romans 9:13 which says, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” How should we understand this? While we can say it is more about election, and choosing and rejecting (and that is indeed part of this), there is still a sense of strong divine displeasure.
But God’s holy hatred is different from that of humans. As R. C. Sproul puts it, “The fact that God loved Jacob and hated Esau does not indicate that God had a malicious sense of odium within his being against Esau.” Or as James Montgomery Boice wrote: “Hatred in God is of a different character than hatred in sinful human beings—his is a holy hatred—hate in God nevertheless does imply disapproval … [Esau] was the object of [God’s] displeasure.”
Or as John MacArthur put it, “In a very real sense, God hated Esau himself. It was not a petty, spiteful, childish kind of hatred, but something far more dreadful. It was divine antipathy—a holy loathing directed at Esau personally. God abominated him as well as what he stood for.”
And consider Romans 12:9 which exhorts us to “hate what is evil; cling to what is good”. In his commentary John Stott writes: “It may seem strange that the exhortation to love is followed immediately by a command to hate. But we should not be surprised. For love is not the blind sentiment it is traditionally said to be. On the contrary, it is discerning. It is so passionately devoted to the beloved object that it hates every evil which is incompatible with his or her highest welfare.”
As R. Kent Hughes remarks, there is a morality to love: “Some might suppose that love is soft on evil. Not so! Evil is to be hated. Sincere love demands God-honoring moral resolve regarding good and evil.” Or as Sproul rightly notes:
The hatred about which Paul writes is hatred of the highest dimension. He uses one of the strongest words for hatred found anywhere in the Bible. The word implies not mild displeasure or mere dislike; Paul is commanding in the name of the Lord that we loathe evil. We are to see evil as an unveiled assault on the character of God and on his sovereignty.
Love must be discerning. Real love does not love everything. On the contrary, it hates what is evil and clings to what is good. ‘God is love’ (1 John 4:8). That is one of the most sublime statements in the Bible, but God is not only love. He is also hate in the sense that he hates what is evil with a proper, righteous hatred. Proverbs 6:16-19 tells us seven things that God hates. . . . Therefore, if we love as God loves – and we must if we are Christians – then there will be things for us to hate, just as there will be also things we must love.
Other theologians have of course spoken about such matters, so let me draw upon some of them here. Let me offer some general thoughts on these issues by two experts. The first one is D. A. Carson who has written often – and cogently – on this topic. In his important 2002 volume, Love in Hard Places, he says this:
One passage talks of God’s love in one way; another passage talks of God’s love in another way. But there is more. The Bible talks of God’s wrath. If the Bible talked only about the love of God, carefully delineating different ways of speaking of that love, but never spoke of God’s hatred or his wrath, we would be dealing with a quite different God. Just as we are called to imitate God’s love in various ways, so are we called to imitate God’s wrath and hatred in various ways. And in this passage, the Ephesians are commended for hating the practices of the Nicolaitans, which the exalted Jesus also hates. If contemporary Christians ask themselves how much of their love reflects the love of God in its various dimensions, they should also ask themselves how much of their hatred reflects the hatred of God. Just as we can prostitute love, so we can prostitute hatred.
Then we have the oft heard but only partially correct statement about ‘loving sinners while hating sin’. This can act more as a bumper sticker than a theologically sound point of view. As Carson writes in The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God (2000):
One evangelical cliché has it that God hates the sin but loves the sinner. There is a small element of truth in these words: God has nothing but hate for the sin, but it would be wrong to conclude that God has nothing but hate for the sinner. A difference must be maintained between God’s view of sin and his view of the sinner. Nevertheless the cliché (God hates the sin but loves the sinner) is false on the face of it and should be abandoned. Fourteen times in the first fifty psalms alone, we are told that God hates the sinner, his wrath is on the liar, and so forth. In the Bible, the wrath of God rests both on the sin (Rom. 1:18ff.) and on the sinner (John 3:36).
Our problem, in part, is that in human experience wrath and love normally abide in mutually exclusive compartments. Love drives wrath out, or wrath drives love out. We come closest to bringing them together, perhaps, in our responses to a wayward act by one of our children, but normally we do not think that a wrathful person is loving.
But this is not the way it is with God. God’s wrath is not an implacable, blind rage. However emotional it may be, it is an entirely reasonable and willed response to offenses against his holiness. But his love, as we saw in the last chapter, wells up amidst his perfections and is not generated by the loveliness of the loved. Thus there is nothing intrinsically impossible about wrath and love being directed toward the same individual or people at the same time. God in his perfections must be wrathful against his rebel image-bearers, for they have offended him; God in his perfections must be loving toward his rebel image-bearers, for he is that kind of God.
Tony Lane, writing on “The Wrath of God as an Aspect of the Love of God,” also discusses this phrase and seeks to give it some biblical padding:
Where does this leave the modern cliché that “God hates the sin but loves the sinner”? Like most clichés it is a half-truth. There are two ways in which it could be taken. The first, which is undoubtedly the way that most people take it in the modern liberal West, is as a comment about the wrath of God. God’s displeasure is against sin but not against the sinner. Apart from the fact that this reverses the emphasis of the New Testament, there are problems with it. As William Temple observes, “that is a shallow psychology which regards the sin as something merely separate from the sinner, which he can lay aside like a suit of clothes. My sin is the wrong direction of my will; and my will is just myself as far as I am active. If God hates the sin, what He hates is not an accretion attached to my real self; it is myself, as that self now exists.” It is incoherent to say that God is displeased with child molestation but feels no displeasure toward child molesters. In what sense, then, is the cliché true? It is to be understood not as limiting the objects of God’s displeasure to sinful actions but as affirming God’s grace. God loves sinners, not in the sense that he does not hate them along with their sin, but in the sense that he seeks their salvation in Christ. While his attitude to sinners as sinners is antagonism and wrath, his good will toward them actively seeks their conversion and forgiveness.
But does the Bible ever talk of God actually hating people? Mostly it speaks of God hating evil deeds (e.g., Deut. 12:31; Prov. 6:16-19; Isa. 61:8; Amos 6:8; Rev. 2:6), but there are seven passages that speak of his hatred for people. First, there is the repeated statement that God loved Jacob but hated Esau (Mal. 1:2-3; Rom. 9:13). We should beware of reading too much into this given the question of the extent to which it is individuals or nations that are in mind, and the question of whether “hate” here is to be understood as in the injunction to hate one’s own relatives and one’s own life (Luke 14:26; cf. Matt. 10:37). Second, it is thrice stated that God hates evildoers (Psalm 5:5; 11:5; Prov. 6:16-19). Finally, God twice states that he hates Israel (Jer. 12:8; Hos. 9:15). Clearly these last affirmations do not preclude God’s love for Israel, as is proclaimed especially by Hosea. Perhaps we would remain closest to the emphasis of the Bible if we spoke of God’s hatred of sin and his wrath against sinners, though we cannot exclude talk of God’s wrath against sin or his hatred of sinners. A new slogan might be “God hates the sin and is angry with the sinner.”
Two of the leading theologians of the church have tackled the question of God’s love and hate. Augustine, in discussing the atonement, warns against the idea that God did not begin to love us until Christ died for us. He wrestles with the tension between the fact that Christ’s death flows from God’s love for us (Rom. 5:8) and the fact that God hates evildoers (Ps. 5:5). He reaches the paradox that God both hated and loved us. He hated us for our sin and loved us for that which sin had not ruined and which is capable of being healed. Thomas Aquinas also tackles Psalm 5:5. He maintains that “God loves sinners as being real things of nature,” as created. But “in so far as they are sinners they are unreal and deficient” and as such God “holds them in hatred.” Again, wrestling with Malachi 1:2-3, Thomas notes that “God loves all men and all creatures as well, inasmuch as he wills some good to all.” But at the same time, “in that he does not will to some the blessing of eternal life he is said to hold them in hate or to reprobate them.”
In sum, great care must be taken here. There are plenty of unloving and rather hateful Christians who would be happy to justify their attitudes and behaviour by an article like this. But that is certainly not my intention. The truth is, we all need to be far more loving than what we are.
But it is also true to say that we need to be more hateful – that is, in the sense of what I have discussed above. We need to reject the simplistic, wishy-washy and syrupy notions of love that predominate in Western Christianity and get back to a hard-headed realism about love as enjoined in Scripture. And that includes thinking biblically about hate.
As usual, trying to get the biblical balance right is difficult. But we must seek to strive for such balance nonetheless. We must be known as a people who love as God loves, but we also must be known as a people who hate as God hates.
Part One of this article is found here: billmuehlenberg.com/2016/11/23/divine-love-hate-part-one/