While looking through some old issues of First Things, I came across a symposium—“Jews and Christians, Hatred and Forgiveness”—from 2003. There appeared to be a consensus among the contributors, both Jews and Christians, that while from the Jewish perspective, hatred of persons is not only permissible but virtuous, it is always impermissible and vicious for Christians.
God, you see, precisely because He is Love, not only hates, but burns with a white-hot hatred—a beautiful, perfect hatred—of all things evil.
To the contributors’ great credit, the discussion was lively, thought-provoking, and civil. Nevertheless, it is my thesis that insofar as they agreed that Christians are forbidden to hate, they were all wrong: Christians have a duty to hate, and to hate not some disembodied abstraction called Sin or Evil, but certain kinds of sinful or evil persons (unless specified otherwise, “sinful” and “evil” are used here interchangeably).
Christians are continuously reminded by their leaders of their obligation to love. After all, God is Love, as the New Testament explicitly states, and accordingly, Christians have an obligation to imitate God by loving themselves, others, and, of course, God Himself. But what most Christians (in the Western world, at least) are not likely to hear from their ministers, theologians, and Biblical scholars is that their obligation to love necessarily entails their obligation to hate.
Christians must hate.
God, you see, precisely because He is Love, not only hates, but burns with a white-hot hatred—a beautiful, perfect hatred—of all things evil.
The Christian, then, has a duty to cultivate this most neglected of excellences.
But what should Christians hate? Christians should hate whatever God hates. And what exactly does God hate?
Though it may shock the sensibilities of contemporary Christians and non-Christians alike, the truth is that the object of God’s hatred is not a “what.” It is a “who.”
Few Christians are unfamiliar with the statement, “Hate the sin, but love the sinner.” Doubtless, even fewer Christians are aware that this line appears nowhere in the Bible. Now, this absence in and of itself does not mean that the imperative is not implied by the Scriptures. The doctrines of the Blessed Trinity, the Incarnation, and others that define the core of the faith of most Christians are not expressly stated in the Bible either. Still, they are true.
There are three reasons that decisively refute the notion that it is always impermissible to hate the sinner.
First, the distinction between the agent (the sinner) and the act (the sin) is conceptual or mental. It is not real. Just as greenness, tallness, and heaviness do not exist independently of green, tall, and heavy beings, so sin exists only within and because of sinful beings. We are able to talk about sin as if it existed in isolation from sinners for the same reason that we can talk about, say, greenness as if it existed apart from green things. It is crucial, however, to realize that in doing so, we engage in the mental act of abstraction. In reality, no one ever perceives greenness, tallness, and heaviness; we see green, tall, and heavy beings. Similarly, in reality, there is no such thing as Sin. There are only sinful beings.
Second, the idea that acts can be divorced from and morally evaluated independently of the moral agents who performed them is an essentially modern one. In the ancient and medieval eras, it did not exist. Indeed, it was the agent, as opposed to the act, that assumed moral primacy—largely just the opposite of the current situation, in which types of acts (those fulfilling obligations, enacting virtues, and so forth) are elevated as universal, impartial criteria for determining whether persons have conducted themselves rightly or wrongly and whether they are good or bad.
In premodern times, though, virtuous and vicious actions were recognized as those actions in which virtuous and vicious people, respectively, would engage. Thus, in the Bible, evil or sinful activity is that activity conducted by evil or sinful people.
Thirdly, if God hates only the sin, never the sinner, then God would be rendered impotent, reduced to the proverbial paper tiger, for God could not judge; He couldn’t do anything to a bodiless, mindless, impersonal generality. While God can and does forgive sin, His hatred of it can be, will be, and must be asserted by way of his judgment upon the sinner.
Fourthly, and most compellingly, the notion that it is always impermissible to hate the sinner appears to be contradicted by the Scriptures, which repeatedly identify either concrete individual or classes of evildoers or sinners as the objects of God’s hatred. For example, Hosea 9:15 reads: “Every evil of theirs is in Gilgal; there I began to hate them. Because of the wickedness of their deeds I will drive them out of my house. I will love them no more” (emphasis added). Psalms 5:4-6 informs us that because “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” (emphasis added). Psalm 11:5 is even more to the point on this score: “The wicked, those who love violence, he [God] hates with a passion” (emphasis added).
God hates the wicked with a passion because He loves the righteous, the holy, and the good with a passion. Again, God is hateful, passionately hateful, and His hatred is directed toward sinful or evil people. Thus, in Malachi 1:3, God does not declare His hatred for some sinfulness that somehow assumed control of Essau’s soul, but Essau himself. Such is His hatred that God talks of having “laid waste to” Essau’s “hill country and [having] left his heritage to the jackals of the desert.”
Proverbs 6: 16-19 informs us of seven things that God hates:
“There are six things that the LORD hates, seven that are an abomination to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil, a false witness who breathes out lies, and one who sows discord among brothers.”
God’s hatred of evildoers is not just a feeling; it is expressed through action, namely, the death God visits upon the wicked.
There are dozens of Biblical passages (I’ve counted at least 32) referencing either God’s threats to destroy cities or His actual destruction of cities. Sodom and Gomorrah are just the two most famous places that incurred God’s wrath. Jeremiah 48:8 goes so far as to state: “A destroyer will come to every city, so that no city will escape; the valley will also be ruined and the plateau will be destroyed, as the LORD has said” (emphasis added).
Not only does God destroy every man, woman, and child except for Noah and his family when He floods the Earth; Leviticus 20:1-23 delineates several transgressions against God for which He promises nothing less than death. God offers an explanation for His sternness: It boils down to nothing more or less than His imperative to be holy. Levitius 20:23 underscores this last point, but it also further demonstrates that, yes, God hates the terminally sinful: “And you shall not walk in the customs of the nation that I am driving out before you, for they did all these things, and therefore I detested them” (emphasis added).
To my twofold claim that God hates and hates sinners themselves, not merely sin in the abstract, some objections will surely be raised.
(1) Most of the passages to which I refer come from the Old Testament. The New Testament makes it clear that Christ’s atoning grace supersedes the old Law.
This distinction between the God of the Old Testament and that of the New was first made by a man named Marcion (of Sinope) in the second century. Marcionism, as this position came to be known, was justly condemned as a Christian heresy.
A Christian has no option but to concede that the God who, born of the Virgin Mary, became flesh in a Bethlehem manger; who walked, ate, slept, preached, and healed legions of needy human beings; who was betrayed, beaten, mocked and abandoned; and who died on a cross in Jerusalem and rose from the dead in order to reconcile Himself with humanity, is one and the same God who created the heavens and the Earth.
As was convincingly argued by the authors of the recently published, Jesus: A Theography, Christ is the key to unlocking Sacred Scripture. Christ, for the Christian, must be seen as pervading every book of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation.
In short, the Carpenter from Galilee is the God who repeatedly proclaimed and demonstrated His detestation of the wicked throughout the Old Testament.
(2) Jesus commands His followers to love their enemies, pray for their persecutors, and turn the other cheek.
This is true. It is also irrelevant if it is interpreted as somehow contradicting all that the Bible says regarding God’s hatred. There are two necessary responses here.
First, my enemies and persecutors need not be among the wicked. Conversely, the wicked need not be my personal enemies and persecutors. Logically and morally, the categories of “my enemy” and “evildoer” are mutually distinct. The concept of “my enemy” has connotations that are inescapably subjective and particular. In sharp contradistinction, those associated with the concept of an “evildoer” are connotations that are objective and universal.
(a)Insofar as someone is my enemy, that person has acted in ways that lend offense to or insult me. Within the same body of verses in which He commands us to love our enemies, Jesus says, “whoever strikes you on your right cheek, turn to him the other also” (Mathew 5:39). This is not an endorsement of pacifism. A slap on the face is not a punch in the face. Much less is it the moral equivalent of an attempted rape, a physical beating, or torture.
Literally and metaphorically, the Jews of Jesus’s day recognized a slap to the face as an insult. If someone insults you, Jesus appears to be saying, then don’t get down into the mud and escalate the situation by insulting your enemy in response. Let it go.
“But I tell you, whoever rapes you in one bodily orifice, offer him another”; “I say to you, whoever bludgeons you with a pipe on one side of the skull, turn to him the other side”; “But I tell you, if someone abducts one of your children, give him another”—that Jesus did not say anything remotely along these lines in His teaching on loving one’s enemies, and that no preacher in the Christian world has ever done so either confirms that “my enemy” does not refer to the objectively evil but only one who has insulted me.
If I am to love such a person in the way in which my Lord commands, I must refuse to exacerbate my pain (possibly no more than a bruised ego) by trading insults.
(b) Insofar as a person acts in objectively evil ways that God abhors, I am duty-bound to hate as God hates that person and his wicked conduct—whether that person is, subjectively speaking, my enemy or not.
If, though, the person is my enemy, I am to hate him, but not hate him as my enemy, or because he is my enemy; I am to hate him because he is a wicked being. To put it another way, an objective evildoer and my enemy can be one and the same person. But they do not have to be one and the same person. The relationship between the wicked and my enemy is contingent; the two just happen to coincide.
An example may help to shed light on this distinction.
A temperamental and unreasonably demanding employer assumes an adversarial stance toward his employees. He becomes, in effect, their “enemy.” The Christian who works for such an employer is commanded by his Lord to love his enemy by, among other things, refusing to succumb to spite, insult, backstabbing, etc. But suppose this same employer regularly rapes, beats, and tortures his employees. Or suppose he reserves his raping, beating, and torturing only for those who are not his employees. In either of these two situations, one’s enemy and the objectively evil evildoer are in one and the same person, but surely it could have been otherwise. After all, not every insufferable employer is a sadist.
God does not hate the tiresome, stress-inducing employer. Hence, neither should his Christian employees. God does, however, hate the sadist. And so too should the Christian. Yet the Christian should hate the sadist not because he happens to be the Christian’s personal enemy, but because he is a sadist.
Second, if, as many assume, in commanding His disciples to love their enemies Christ commands them to love evildoers, then it follows that Christians must love the Enemy, the Evil One: Satan. Yet surely this cannot be correct, for there is no Scriptural warrant for supposing that God loves Satan, though there is ample evidence that He hates him.
Not only did Jesus resist the Devil’s temptations in the desert, commanding him to “Be gone!” (Mathew 4:10); when Jesus excoriated those who tried to trap Him, he referred to their “father the devil” as a murderer, liar, and thief (John 8: 44). Peter said of Satan that he “prowls” like “a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8), and 1 Thessalonians 3:5 calls him a “tempter.” In Ephesians 6:11, the Christ’s disciples are ordered to arm themselves against “the schemes of the devil.”
Anyone who still needs convincing that God hates Satan need only consult the book of Revelation. During the Final Judgment, Satan, we are told, “will go out to deceive the nations in the four corners of the earth…and…gather them for battle. In number they [will be] like the sand on the seashore.” The author of Revelation tells us what happened next in his vision: “But fire came down from heaven and devoured them.” Scores and scores of evildoers will be consumed by God’s wrath. As for the Devil, he “was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever (20:8-10)” (emphasis added).
While having this discussion with a friend, he suggested that whereas Christians most certainly must renounce Satan, they are to respond to him in love. Yet perhaps it is here, the juncture at which the disciples of the Most Holy and those of the most evil of all beings meet, that the paradoxical nature of the relationship between love and hatred—like the larger paradoxical character of the relationship between Love and His creation—reveals itself: Since, for the Christian, the (lawful or ordered) love of God, the highest Good, is essential to and at the root of one’s love of any being, to respond to Satan in love is to hate him for God’s sake. But to hate Satan for God’s sake is to love for God’s sake. To be filled with the love of God is to burn with hatred of the wicked.
God may love Satan insofar as He loves every being that He has created, just inasmuch as being itself is good. From a moral, as opposed to an ontological perspective, though, God, it seems painfully, shockingly clear, hates the Devil. So too should Christians pray for, not Satan’s salvation, but his destruction. And this is nothing if not hatred.
(3) If God hates sinners because sin is always enacted by persons, then since we are all sinners, it must follow that God hates us all.
There are two possible responses here.
First, perhaps there is a sense in which God can be said to hate every sinner insofar as they are sinners. This suggests that while God hates human beings while they are sinning, He nevertheless loves us inasmuch as He preserves our lives and continues to offer opportunities for redemption and mercy. This, at any rate, is a possibility.
Yet the more plausible counter-objection, I think, is that God recognizes what everyone recognizes, namely, that there are differences both in degree and kind between sins. All sin is equally sin, but some sins are worse than others. Or, to put this point another way, all evil acts are immoral acts, but not all immoral acts are sufficiently egregious to qualify as evil: It is immoral for a man to lie to his wife to conceal, say, his gambling habit, but it is evil for a man to murder his wife for her life insurance. Similarly, God recognizes that a man who lies to his wife to conceal his gambling habit is not as bad of a man as he who murders his wife for her life insurance.
God also recognizes that there exists a crucial difference between, on the one hand, those who habitually, arrogantly, and unrepentantly engage in evil activity and, on the other, those who, in spite of continually failing to achieve holiness, nevertheless just as doggedly continue to pursue it.
Deuteronomy 9:5 is one passage of the Bible that conveys this acknowledgment on God’s part of these distinctions. He informs the Israelites: “It is not because you are so good or have such integrity that you are about to occupy their land. The LORD your God will drive these nations out ahead of you only because of their wickedness, and to fulfill the oath he swore to your ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” This is an implicit recognition on God’s part that some people and their acts are worse than others and, thus, deserving of different responses.
God does not hate all sinners. He hates only those who persist in what John calls “deadly sin,” the unrepentant who have made themselves into evil people, thereby turning themselves over to Satan.
It must also be noted that God does not derive pleasure from the destruction of sinners. Both the Old and New Testaments are clear on this point. Ezekiel 18:32 reads: “For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord GOD; so turn and live.” In 2 Peter 3:9, the man upon whom Christ built His church says: “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” And, of course, there is John 3:16, which sums up beautifully God’s view of His broken creation: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”
God loves us insofar as we are His creatures, human-persons made after His likeness. He loves us insofar as He wants for us to repent of our sins and embrace His offer of reconciliation, of eternal life. Yet He does not love us insofar as we unrepentantly engage in sinful, evil activity.
While, as Christians, we do indeed have a duty to God to hate the evildoer, because we are not God, because we lack His omniscience, we are not in a position to determine the hearts of every person with whom we have any kind of encounter. Thus, in practice, and in order to avoid hating those who do not deserve to be hated, we must err on the side of caution and pray for their salvation.
This being said, there are others for the recognition of whose evil we do not need God’s omniscience. The man who abducts, rapes, tortures, and murders a child, say, is an evildoer and deserves to be hated for the monster that he is. There are numerous other examples of objectively evil people whom we must and can hate.