Posted by: Dan | February 12, 2006

Hatred and Truth-telling

I received an interesting question in response to my last post, and so I thought I would post my response in a new post with the hope that it would spark more discussion on this topic.

Stephen,

If I am understanding you correctly you seem to be objecting to the usage of the word “hate” in the initial quote because hate is implies a “relational” anger. Therefore, you seem to suggest that when we speak the truth with hatred (whether towards “a group of people or a person, some kind of system of authority, or system of living”) people will be distracted or deterred and their hearing will be negatively impacted.

I'm not entirely sure that I agree with you. Mostly because there seems to be a time for hate (as Eccl 3.8 says). Now I'm not talking about hatred of specific people — that seems to be thoroughly done away with after Christ. In the New Testament one is no longer permitted to hate anybody, not even one's enemies, or the enemies of one's loved ones.

However, there does seem to be a place for a hatred in the New Testament — one is to hate evil. The Psalmist tells those who love God to “hate” evil (Ps 5.5), the writer of Proverbs tells us that the fear of the Lord is to “hate” evil (Prov 8.13), and Amos tells us to “hate” evil and love good (Am 5.15). This seems to remain a consistent theme in the NT.

Because one hates evil one should also hate certain evil actions. Thus, we hear Jesus saying, “you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate” (Rev 2.6). The OT talks about God hating evil actions several times (cf. Deut 12.31, Prov 6.16, Is 61.8, Jer 44.4, Zech 8.17) and the NT gives us no reason to think that such actions should no longer be hated after Christ. Indeed, such hatred seems to be appropriate. Thus, to take one example, God is said to “hate” divorce in Mal 2.6 and Jesus' teachings on divorce seem to confirm this.

Because certain evil actions are to be hated, there is also a place for hating structures which institutionalise those actions. Thus, the prophets continual speak about ways in which violence and injustice have been institutionalised in the structures of Israel (cf. Is 1.14, Am 5.21). Indeed, Israel is sent into exile at least partially because it has not hated structures that institutionalised violence. As Ezekiel says, “since you have not hated bloodshed, therefore bloodshed will pursue you” (Ez 35.6). Again, there is no reason to suppose that this critique does not carry over into the NT. The harsh words that Jesus and John the Baptiser have for the Pharisees et al. and for the Temple cult seem to confirm that this form of hatred carries over into a Christian ethic as well.

Not only that but Jesus suggests that, if we are to follow him faithfully, we may be required to hate seemingly neutral objects that are the building blocks of those institutions. As he suggests in Mt 6.24, “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other You cannot serve God and wealth.” Perhaps serving God requires us to hate money. I also think it would be appropriate for Christians to hate such objects as guns, crack, nuclear weapons, etc.

So I think that (a) hatred of evil; (b) hatred of evil actions; (c) hatred of structures that institutionalise evil actions; and (d) hatred of objects that support those structures and work against Christianity's goal of universal reconciliation, might all be forms of hatred that are consistent with a Christian ethic.

And, in keeping with the biblical witness, I think that it is okay to use the language of hatred when discussing such things. So, for example, as a Christian I can say (a) I hate evil; (b) I hate murder; (c) I hate States that thrive on war; (d) I hate nuclear weapons.

Or, another example: (a) I hate evil; (b) I hate rape; (c) I hate institutions that make a profit from sexually objectifying women; (d) I hate snuff films.

Note that neither of these examples imply that I hate people. Thus, in the first case I should be able to say that I love (b) murderers, (c) politicians and dictators, and (d) soldiers; and in the second case I should still be able to say that I love (b) rapists, (c) people who work for firms that perpetuate the objectification of women, and (d) people who produce snuff films. No easy task but it is what is required of us.

I'd be curious to hear more thoughts on this… what do y'all think about the notion of “appropriate hatred” and how can we ensure that it remains “appropriate”? I ask this question because I think that catch phrases like, “love the sinner but hate the sin” don't usually work so well in practice.

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