We live in an unfortunate cultural moment where only the small things matter, yet the big things don’t. We fastidiously strain out the gnats by burning Nikes and boycotting burgers while swallowing the camel stampede of national infanticide, sexual immorality in every direction, and materialistic hedonism as the driving impulse of life.
Within evangelicalism, this is manifest in the unstated addendum to the Decalogue: “Thou shalt be a sweetheart.” The Apostle Paul spoke of “the offense of the cross” (Gal. 5:11), yet across our churches, the unforgivable sin is to give offense in the slightest degree. Granted, we are to speak the truth in love (Eph. 4:15)—but in some Christian circles, anything that smacks of a biblically precedented bluntness on topics of morality, sin, and judgment is met with a stern talking to over a latte in a cozy café, or whatever church discipline looks like nowadays. Political correctness has unseated prophetic clarity.
Steeped in this subculture, “hate” is not a word we’ve allowed into our vocabulary. We’re not allowed to hate anything. That, after all, would not be nice.
But if nothing in the world around us is worthy of our disdain, then nothing is worthy of our affection, either. The jeweler who esteems all pebbles alike will see slow sales. The man who regards all women as he regards his wife will find he no longer has one. Likewise, in Scripture, a robust theology of hatred is central to our joy.
First, let’s ask the question: can God actually hate? Isn’t that, well, ungodly?
“For 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 all who speak lies; the LORD abhors the bloodthirsty and the deceitful man” (Psalm 5:4-6).
Contrast this with the tweet I saw this morning, fired off by a chap I’ve never seen before: “God embraces everyone, but not everything. #thegospel.” Does he?
If God is so indiscriminate as to literally embrace everyone from Osama Bin Laden to Adolf Hitler, he is not worth worshiping for eternity. If God is truly “good,” it is necessary that he hates what is evil; otherwise, the riches of his goodness are prostituted out across a sea of excusable human iniquity.
A God who hates evil, a God who judges all the wrong does in the world, a God who promises to fix the world and bring perfect justice—now that is a God worth spending eternity with. The biblical word for this is holy.
Fundamentally, this is good news for the people of God. God hates and fights the cosmic enemies of his covenant people the same way a father hates a nighttime intruder and protects his family at risk to himself, or the same way a husband’s zealous love for his wife drives him to put down any worthless man who would lay hold on her. God is a protector of his people (Ps. 10:14), a ten-thousand-men strong breaker of the teeth of the wicked (Ps. 3:6-7).
Of course, as missionary and evangelist Paul Washer has pointed out, this also turns God’s goodness into the scariest truth of the Bible. If God hates sin, and I’m born with a nature that loves to sin (Ps. 51:5), I am in trouble. God is good; I am not. If he hates all that is impure and excludes evil from his eternal kingdom, I am thereby on the outs.
Herein lies a second way in which the hatred of God preserves our joy in him: through the cross. Without God’s holy hatred of sin, the cross is stripped of meaning. On the cross, the sinless Son of God drank down God’s wrath against sin on behalf of all who would believe, so that they, forgiven and freed by faith, can be free to drink down God’s goodness to the dregs.
In the cross is the perfect juxtaposition of hate and love: God’s hatred of sin that results in wrath poured out on Christ, and God’s love for sinful people that results in their receiving unfathomable mercy.
In this vein, Scripture sees the cross as, in a sense, vindicating the hatred of God. The propitiatory sacrifice of Christ “was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Rom. 3:25b-26). In other words, if God had never displayed the cross of Christ visibly in history, one might presume that God was okay with all the sin and evil committed by his forgiven, covenant people. For instance, one might think that God had winked at King David’s murder and adultery when, upon repenting, David was told, “The LORD has taken away your sin. You are not going to die” (2 Sam. 12:13), when in point of fact God’s law demands the sinner die (Lev. 18:5, Deut. 24:16, Ez. 18:20, Rom. 6:23).
If God is just but not a justifier, we are doomed. If God is a justifier but not just, he is inept at best and morally corrupt at worst, certainly not worth knowing. Only in the cross does God both lovingly save sinners and display his holy hatred towards sin, so that we can freely enjoy knowing a good God without ourselves falling under his just condemnation.
Without a right theology of God’s impeccable form of hate—a pure hatred of sin and evil, far from the capricious, self-serving hatred we harbor when cut off in traffic or wronged in some other way—the cross is stripped of meaning. A right understanding of divine hatred casts the love of God into stark relief.
Moreover, we are to mirror God’s right affections, loves and hates alike. While we are called to love our enemies (Matt. 5:44), since he loves us, he are also told, “The fear of the LORD is hatred of evil” (Prov. 8:13). To love the things of God is to hate the things that are opposed to his beauty, holiness, and glory.
God’s holy hatred gives his love teeth. A holy God abhors evil; a bad god abides it. Let us take fresh joy in the goodness of God and all that it implies.