There are six things the LORD hates,
seven that are detestable to him:
a lying tongue,
hands that shed innocent blood,
a heart that devises wicked schemes,
feet that are quick to rush into evil,
a false witness who pours out lies,
and a person who stirs up conflict in the community. (Proverbs 6:16-19, NIV)
One of the things I remember about growing up is that my mother did not like the word “hate.” Especially when applied to another person. If I came home mad at something someone had done to me, or mad at a teacher, or whoever, I learned early not to say I hated that person. At least not if I wanted sympathy from Mom!
I could say I was mad at them, that was fine. I could say that they had hurt me or disappointed me. Mom would be on my side, no question, just as mad and hurt and disappointed as I was. But I couldn’t say I hated them. She had no tolerance for that.
You might say she hated that world.
I’m glad. I think that by discouraging the use of that word, she forced my sister and I to find other vocabulary to express our feelings. Hate, for most of us, is too easy. Too simple. Someone does something we don’t like, takes a position we don’t appreciate, disappoints us in any way, and we too easily dismiss them with that word “hate,” instead of realizing that people and issues are more complicated than that.
But when I see that word “hate” in the Bible, it makes me cringe. And when I see in the Bible that God “hates” — wow, I just really struggle with that.
The Proverb-ist gives us a convenient list of seven things God hates. He says these things are “detestable” to God — language used for idol worship in the Old Testament. The arrangement — “six things…seven…” — are a poetic way of saying there may be more, but these seven you can be sure of. The list is given in the form of body parts — eyes, tongue, hands, heart, feet. Mouth, maybe — someone who lies, especially to defraud someone else. And then the whole person at the end whose misuse of all these parts of the body “stirs up conflict in the community.”
God hates it, the list tells us, when human beings use the bodies that God has created to do evil to other human beings who he has created. People are made in God’s image. His creation is good. God hates it when we wreck his creation and harm his image-bearers. He hates people who do that. Maybe it’s better to say that he hates people who are doing that.
One thing you can say with certainty is that God’s hatred doesn’t cancel out or displace his love. I think it’s possible for human beings to hate and love at the same time. (I think of the woman I know of who left her husband a note detailing how he had hurt her, and ending with the sentence, “I hate you.” And then she signed it, “Love,….”) But for us, hatred makes love hard to maintain. We all depend on the hope that God can love even when he hates, that even though we may have been and even will be guilty of doing the things he hates, we aren’t doomed to the absence of his love.
That’s because, for God, hate and love aren’t primarily — or at least not only — feelings. When we feel hate, it’s hard to feel love, and the habit of hatred will erode our ability to love. That’s what Mom knew. That’s what, in our world, we need to learn. But for God, neither hate nor love are something he feels. Or, at least, something he only feels.
In Malachi, a message from God to the prophet is — “Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.” In Malachi’s time, people are asking how the prophet can say that God loves them. They’re in exile, their homeland a wreck. God points to the land of Edom, whose inhabitants were thought to be descendants of Jacob’s brother Esau. Their land is a wreck, too, but God is against them and won’t allow them to rebuild. Israel — “Jacob” — will have that chance. God “hates” Esau in that he is against Edom because of their wrongdoing and on the side of Israel. It isn’t that he despises the Edomites as a people.
That’s a very important distinction because God’s hatred has been twisted by believers for centuries to justify violence toward and oppression of Jews, Muslims, minority races, homosexuals — a convenient excuse to exclude those we wanted to exclude. I remind you of the fact that one of the things God hates is violence. Another is injustice.
And I’ll remind you of this: God’s hate is never used in the Bible to tell people that he doesn’t love them anymore. Through Amos, God tells his people that he “hates” their religion — and then he tells them, “let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!” He hasn’t given up on them. He wants them to live up to his love and hate the things he hates.
Scripture doesn’t say that God is hate; it says that God is love. God can be trusted with hate, because what he hates doesn’t negate the love that he has for all of us, every one of us, the love that we see in Jesus. While he may hate some of the things we do, he still reaches out us with love, faithfulness, compassion, forgiveness, and grace. His hate should drive us to repentance, and to try even more faithfully to live in the love he never stops showing us. His hate is even a facet of his love, a response to our rejection of the only way we have to life. It wants to change us by inviting us to hate the things he hates.
Jesus tells us, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you….” And he goes on to give us the reason why such an elevated ethic is required of us: “Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”
We love even those who hate us because that’s what we ought to have learned from God.
So, yes; I apologize, Mom, but God does hate. And he wants us to hate the things he hates, as well.
But God’s hate does not cut us off from his love.
And God’s hate does not give us an excuse to write off anyone as being unreachable by his love.
God’s hate should turn us from our destructive ways. It should turn us back to the love he still, always, everlastingly has for us. The love we see and learn in Jesus.
If God’s hate makes you hateful, you haven’t learned the right lesson. If you respond to those who hate you with more hate, then you haven’t learned from the God who is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.
May we hate what God hates. And may we never stop loving as God loves. Without question or qualification.