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A Word About Hatred On ‘Bible Sunday’, a Biblical Theme

 

Luke 14:25-33     Ecclesiastes 3:1-8     1st John 4:7-12     

[1] Directing a youngster to the bible is always risky. Who knows what the young person will turn up? Several years ago, when our daughter Mary – now twenty-seven – was six or seven years old, she was restless prior to the CGIT Advent Vesper Service. She persisted in querying Maureen about the facts of life. Not prudish in the least Maureen nonetheless felt that five minutes before the vesper service in a hushed church wasn’t the time or place to launch into “the great explanation”. Since Mary had just learned to read Maureen thought that reading would be the surest way to distract Mary. “Read the bible”, said Maureen as she pulled it out of the pew rack, “Open it anywhere and read”. Mary did as she was told. With loud voice she read, “And the Lord opened Sarah’s womb”. (“wam-b”) Then, with louder voice, “Mommy, what’s a womb?” “Shhh! Just read the bible!” “But I am reading the bible. What’s a womb?”

Directing a youngster to scripture is always risky. When I was a child I was told repeatedly that God is love. Jesus, the Son of God, loves too. Christian people are to love. Hatred of any kind is bad, I concluded; hatred is always and everywhere wrong. I was directed to scripture as a confirmation of all of this.

Opening up the book of Ecclesiastes (3:8) I read that while there is a time to love there is also a time to hate. In no time I was telling my parents at the breakfast table that according to scripture God hates; God is a terrific hater. Furthermore, Jesus says that we are even to hate our parents, as well as spouse and children. But I had always been told that I was to honour my parents; now the master himself was telling me I was to hate them if I was to be his disciple. In any case I persisted with my reading and struggled on. Not only were disciples to hate; not only was I to hate; I was going to be hated as well! I read our Lord’s declaration that his people will be hated. What was I getting myself into? But perhaps the cloud had a silver lining since Jesus promised that to the extent his people were hated they would also find themselves blessed! At the same time I was more confused than enlightened by what I was reading. To my confusion there was soon added mystery, for in reading the book of Revelation (which has since become one of my favourites) I was told that the beast would come to hate the whore. (Rev. 17:16) Beast? Whore? I was only thirteen and I had never met either! But in any case the beast and the whore might as well hate each other since, according to scripture, everyone already hates everyone else.

[2] Yes. That’s just the point: everyone does. Hatred is endemic in a fallen creation. Hatred comes naturally to fallen people. After all a fallen world is fallen away from the God who is love. To fall away from love can only be to fall into hate, haters of God and haters of one another, as scripture reminds us on every page.

Worldlings with the shallowest understanding never grasp the nature and depth and scope of the fall. They think that love predominates in a world which they don’t believe fallen. Worldlings with a more sober, more realistic understanding assume that humankind is spiritually/morally neutral: humankind is suspended halfway between good and evil, love and hate, and is waiting only to be nudged in one direction or the other.

On the other hand, Christians with the profoundest gospel-understanding know that humankind is created good, is currently fallen, and as such has that heart-condition of which scripture speaks. We have a heart-condition so bad that our heart can’t be fixed; nothing less than a transplant will do, a new heart, new mind, new spirit.

Do I exaggerate? Think for a minute of what scripture says about the anguish of loving. Scripture doesn’t tell us to “love one another” as if it were as easy as shooting fish in a barrel, as though the exhortation were really quite superfluous. Instead scripture states that a massive work of grace is needed, so massive, so thoroughgoing that this work leaves its beneficiaries speaking not of improvement but of death of old man/woman and birth of new. Then scripture festoons itself with a thousand-and-one injunctions to love, plainly teaching that even those made new at Christ’s hand have to be prodded and reminded and urged and rebuked and coaxed and pleaded with over and over lest the “old” proclivity to hate reassert itself. All the resources of Father, Son, Holy Spirit and congregation are needed to keep so much as one soul loving ever so slightly.

I am amused whenever I hear newscasters say, “War has broken out…”. The newscaster assumes that peace is the natural condition of a fallen world and war irrupts uncharacteristically from time to time. Surely the opposite is the case: war is the natural condition of a fallen world and peace irrupts uncharacteristically from time to time. Let’s not forget that since World War II (which set a record for fatalities) there have been over fifty wars whose fatality-total is greater than that of World War II. Think of the hatred that has soaked into the soil around this community. First there was strife between native and white intruder, then between English-speaking and French-speaking, then between American and British, then between descendants of both British and French here and Germans overseas. Now we have returned everywhere in Canada to strife between native and everyone else. And of course hatred expressed through an unwieldy army has largely given way to hatred expressed through the terrorist whose ten ounces of plastic can rend flesh and steel in ways that Napoleon, Bismarck and Wellington never imagined.

Because open warfare hasn’t occurred in our vicinity for many years we lose sight of the fact that preparedness for war — essential, it would appear — merely confirms that smouldering hostility endemic in a fallen world. For decades the policy of Great Britain was to ensure that its navy was larger than the combined firepower of the next two largest navies who might decide to gang up on Britain. As late as 1932 the United States had on file strategies to be deployed in the event of war with Britain. Now that the cold war is over and the former USSR neither needs nor can afford its huge nuclear submarine fleets, its nuclear submarines will be sold to developing nations who have waited years to acquire crushing firepower. When Rene Levesque came to power in 1976 the CIA of the United States slipped hundreds of French-speaking agents into Quebec in case the PQ government turned nationalistically nasty and tampered with American access to the St. Lawrence Seaway, fresh water, or hydroelectricity. In 1985 the U.S. government began concentrating one entire division of light infantry (10,000 men) in New York State opposite Kingston. These 10,000 men, two hours from Ottawa and three hours from Montreal, are available for military intervention if political instability in Canada ever threatens U.S. interests.

What about the beast and the whore? In the book of Revelation the beast is the symbol of the political power of imperial Rome; the whore is the symbol of affluent decadence. People want greater and greater affluence, regardless of the decadence that comes with it. They expect political authority (the government) to facilitate this for them. As economic recession sets in, however, (it always does cyclically) government insists that it cannot continue to exercise its responsibility to preserve order as well as continue to provide countless “goodies”. At this point there is open conflict between those wanting law and order and those wanting access to unbridled luxury. The beast has come to hate the whore.

Hatred isn’t an occasional outcropping from humankind; it’s endemic within humankind.

[3] This truth is all the more startling when seen in the light of the God who is love. (1 John 4:8) God doesn’t love in the sense that love is what he does (as though he could do something else; namely, not love if he wanted to); God loves, ceaselessly, just because God’s nature is to love. To say that God’s nature is to love is to say that God cannot not love. God will not fail to love just because he cannot fail to love. Love and love only is all that he is.

I am aware that all creaturely pictures for God are somewhat dangerous since God isn’t creaturely. Still, we have to picture him somehow. Whenever I think of God and his ceaselessly fiery love I think of the sun. Now the sun consists of gas. Yet the gas which constitutes the sun isn’t wispy gas; it’s nothing vague or ethereal. The gas which constitutes the sun (hydrogen, largely) is startlingly dense, weighty. So dense is this gas that one litre of it weighs 100 pounds. Think of it: density denser than lead, vastness vaster than the oceans, always burning, burning, burning, giving forth warmth and light and life. Then think of God: concrete beyond our imagining, eternally burning with love, ceaselessly giving forth love, forever bringing forth warmth and light and life. God has suffused his creation with love. He continues to irradiate his creation with that alone with which he can irradiate it — love — just because love is all he is. God isn’t love plus something else. Neither is God something else plus love. God is flaming love and only flaming love concentrated more densely than the sun is concentrated fiery hydrogen gas.

[4] And yet — and this is what astonished me when I was a youngster — God hates! The God whose nature is unmixed love, pure love — how can pure love hate? If pure love is said to hate then such “hatred” can only be an expression of this love.

Let’s be sure we grasp a crucial distinction: the hatred which seethes in a fallen world is not an expression of love. The hatred which infests a fallen world is murderous, as Jesus makes clear when he insists that such hatred is murder looking for a place to happen. God’s “hatred”, however, is entirely different. The “hatred” with which God hates is but God’s love bent on correcting us. Since God loves without interruption, since God can’t do anything but love, his “hatred” can only be his love scorching us, for the moment, in order to correct us.

We should look more closely at what God is said to hate. God hates pagan worship, says the author of Deuteronomy.(12:31) One feature of pagan worship which God hated in the nations surrounding Israel was the practice of burning one’s children as a sacrifice to the pagan deity. Pagan worshippers believed that their pagan deity was pleased, placated even, by the infants they threw into the fire.

“Ancient stuff”, someone snorts, “primitive stuff; it has no bearing on us today”. I disagree. What deity is worshipped when parents by the thousand in Thailand send out twelve and thirteen year-olds, boys and girls, as prostitutes? What deity is worshipped when the Thai government refuses to enact legislation to curb this trade, so highly valued is the almighty tourist dollar it brings in? Children aren’t sacrificed to pagan deities today? Surely a child is sacrificed to a pagan god when the little boy is told from infancy that he must become an NHL player, and everything in the family is given over to this all-consuming preoccupation.

Let’s move from Deuteronomy to the prophet Hosea. Hosea (9:10) insists that people invariably become conformed to what they worship. Whatever we worship puts its stamp upon us. To worship the God who is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is to be stamped afresh with that image which was stamped upon us at creation. To worship something else is to be stamped with this “something”, only to find that this stamp and the original stamp of God’s image are now frightfully mixed up and confused, betokening confusion within the person herself.

But God hates more than pagan worship. God hates the worship of Israel (church) when the outer exercises of worship aren’t met with inner sincerity of heart. Through the prophet Isaiah God says, “This people honours me with their lips, but their heart is far from me”. If our heart is cold toward God’s love and truth and way then our “worship” is an exercise in phoniness, a smokescreen meant to deceive. Concerning this cold and stonyhearted worship, as phoney as it is reprehensible, God says through the prophet Amos, “I hate, I despise your solemn assemblies”. (Amos 5:21)

God hates even more. God is said to hate evil, hate wickedness, in any form.

And yet the God whose heart is flaming love can only love. Then his manifold hatred can only be his scorching love correcting and refining his creatures. God hates alien worship just because he wants something more glorious for men and women than they can imagine for themselves, and they never will imagine it and know it until they fall on their face before him. God hates the worship of Israel and church when it is devoid of spirit and truth just because he longs to see sincerity and integrity in his people. God hates evil, wickedness, just because he longs to see righteousness flood his creation.

[5] By now I was a young teenager. I understood the sense in which we must never hate, for the kind of hatred with which we must never hate is a sign of that era which God has condemned, and our hating with this kind of hatred could only mean that we are still in bondage to the old era. We are never to hate our enemies, for to hate our enemies would declare publicly that we were in bondage to a fallen world. I understood too the sense in which the Christian must always hate, for we are always to hate precisely what God hates. Not only are we to hate only what God hates, we are to hate only as God hates; we are to agonize with God for a world and its people whom he never fails to love.

Suddenly I understood the sense in which God’s people are to hate the company of evildoers (Psalm 26:5), hate the doubleminded (Psalm 119:113), hate perverted speech (Proverbs 8:13).

[6] It was a few years later (by now I was almost out of my teens) that I came to understand another sense in which the Hebrew mind uses the word “hate”. (What follows in this last section of the sermon is very different from the discussion of hatred which has preceded. It’s almost as if we’re beginning a new sermon.) Hebrew grammar doesn’t have a comparative form or superlative form of adjectives and adverbs. In English we say, “Apple pie is good; apple pie with ice-cream is better”. Lacking a comparative Hebrew says, “Apple pie with ice-cream is good; apple pie without ice-cream is terrible”. Now when we come to express the idea that we ought to love God more than we love anything or anyone else, that our love for God ought to be greater than our love given elsewhere, Hebrew says we ought to love the one and hate the other. Because Jesus is Hebrew, thoroughly Hebrew, he says that to become his disciple we must hate parents, spouse and children. (Luke 14:26) He means that compared to him all earthly ties come second. However important our bond with other people, none is as important as our bond with him. To be sure, the command to honour one’s parents is never relaxed. At the same time we must not give to our parents — nor to our spouse or children or anyone else — what is owed God alone. Our first love is to be the God who is nothing but love. As long as our first love is the God who is love then we shall love all others — spouse, parents, children — with a love which is appropriate to the relationship. But if we give them that love which is owed God, then we shall corrupt even that love with which we are attempting to love them. Therefore we must “hate” them in the sense which Hebrew grammar confers on “hate” in this context. We must hate them — that is, love them with a love which is strictly subordinated to our love for God — especially if they demand that we love them with that love which is owed him.

It’s always risky to send a youngster to the bible. It’s also the best thing we can do. Before I was out of my teens I had learned much about hatred. One, that hatred in the bad sense of the word is endemic in a fallen world; two, that the God who is eternal love hates in the sense that his hatred is his love scorching us right; three, that God’s people are never to hate in the sense of possessing murderous intent, but always to hate in the sense of repudiating what God repudiates; lastly, and quite different from the foregoing, we are to “hate” (in the Hebrew sense) even what is good for the sake of what is best; namely, our great God and Saviour.

Victor Shepherd     

December 2002