It is sometimes said that the word “love” is so broad that its deeper meaning is compromised. The same thing is true of the word hate: “I hate dill pickles”; “I hate losing”; “I hate to tell you this, but …”. Hate describes everything from the mildly annoying to the morally reprehensible.
But there is a sinister side to hate, a loathing of that which is good and pure, a darkness of soul that foments violence and injury against the innocent. It is the spirit of evil that originates from the ultimate hater, Satan. But as the quintessential master of disguise, Satan camouflages hatred to make it appear milder, justified and less offensive to our own senses.
Hate is a “floodgate” sin, an incubator of other sins and a polluter of one’s nobler impulses. We ought to be alarmed if we sense hatefulness in our thoughts, yet sometimes the opposite happens: hatred feels good and often feels right, so we might not only fail to address it but indulge and nurse it so that it anchors a tap root deep in our heart.
The extent of hate is shown in Jn 7:7: “The world cannot hate you, but it hates Me, because I testify of it that its works are evil.” The first definition of hate in Webster’s Online is “intense hostility and aversion usually deriving from fear, anger, or sense of injury.” The faithless, unbelieving element of Judaism – the “world” in this verse – hated Jesus because He was exposing them for what they were: “And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil” (Jn 3:19).
Jesus’ own brothers in the flesh had not stirred up the hatred of the world because they didn’t oppose or attack it. Therefore, they were free to go to Jerusalem for the Feast of Tabernacles whenever and however they chose; they were not endangered by the world’s hatred. But Jesus was.
So hatred despises God and His goodness because it feels judged, exposed, infringed upon. Thus, if such feelings well up within us, it may be because we are reacting against what is right.
Jesus challenges us to overcome hatred even toward our enemies: “Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Mt 5:44-45). Those who hate can perpetrate unspeakable horrors: they can verbally slander and ridicule; they can set us up for failure so that we are fired from our job; they can harm innocent children. Hatred is often arrogant, self-righteous, blasphemous, contemptuous and morally indifferent. True hatred knows no limits. Jesus does not say we have no legal recourse against criminal behavior or spiritual recourse against sin, but He does say that we cannot afford to let hatred for our enemy invade our souls and rot us from the inside out. Sometimes the good done to our enemy involves confrontation and correction.
What is the antidote to hatred? Benevolent action: love, bless, do good, pray for enemies. Just thinking bad thoughts away is nearly impossible. The effective way to overcome negative thoughts and feelings is to actively do the opposite. The feelings will eventually align with the actions, for we are investing our time and energy in what is good. Righteousness can be just as infectious as evil, which is why good examples are often cited in the new testament as impetus to do likewise.
Is hatred ever justified? Note Vine’s second definition of hate: “of a right feeling of aversion from what is evil.” Paul lamented in Rom 7:15: “For what I am doing, I do not understand, For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do.” Further, Jesus commended the Ephesians: “But this you have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate” (Rev 2:6).
Here is one of the conundrums of the faithful: there are things we find vile because they are evil. We intellectually recognize their unlawfulness, injuriousness, degradation and emptiness, and yet we are not only drawn to them but do them! Concerning this contradictory behavior Paul then laments: “O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (7:24). Such is the power of temptation and rationalization.
Christians must be people of moral distinction; we cannot afford to become complacent about sin, oblivious to the damage it does to the world around us, our families and brethren, and even ourselves. Satan’s first line of attack is to moderate our aversion to sin. He does this by desensitizing us by sheer inundation so that we are not shocked or repelled by sin (this is why it alarms me to hear a Christian say of vile language in a movie, “I didn’t even notice it.”). He also moderates our response to sin by involving our loved ones in it. Thus we tend to excuse and justify it in our family, friends and brethren to preserve the external relationship. Satan also encourages us to doubt our own convictions: “Can so many people be wrong who believe ______________ is ok?!”
Our society is ever pushing the envelope of vulgarity, nudity, drunkenness, fornication, gender ambiguity, moral relativity, etc. We must hate sin in all its forms and remember what its true nature is: a rejection of God and rebellion toward His will. Sin is spiritual suicide, and we cannot afford to be enticed by it. On the other hand, we must distinguish the sinner from his actions and remember that they have lost their moral compass, are deceived by Satan’s persuasion and are often acting out of pain and fear and confusion. Let us strive to show by our hatred of sin and love for sinners “a more excellent way” (1 Cor 12:31).