How Do We Live Out “A Time to Hate”?

Me? Hate someone?

I can still recall being asked the uber-sobering question (supposedly by someone who could be objective), if I possessed any “hate” toward another believer in Christ with whom I was embroiled in conflict.

“No,” I replied, simply and succinctly, after a nanosecond’s worth of self-x-raying my heart. “I don’t hate anyone,” I continued.

Me? Hate someone? Hate a fellow Christian? I treated the thought like I would a mosquito that had landed on me, by shaking it off.

Although God is the only one who truly knows the intricate shadows, twists and turns within the depths of our hearts, I was certain that my attitude and actions towards this individual failed to rise to the level of hate. At least according to my interpretation of the word.

Hate is a big, but also “biblical,” word

In our everyday English, how we tend to interpret hate, emotionally, is pretty linear. Hate is hate, right? I’m not referring to the flippant ways in which we use the word at times. For example, “I hate when that happens.” Or, “I hate doing that.” We may even josh someone a little who won the lottery by issuing them a tongue-in-cheek, “I hate you.”

Hate defined

Hate has been defined as:

“Having a deep, intense emotion expressing animosity, anger, and hostility towards someone, a group, or object.” (Penguin Dictionary of Psychology).

You may be surprised to hear that the word “hate,” in both Greek and Hebrew translations of the Bible, contains a wide swath of meanings. For instance, if I hate something, it could mean that I love something less than something else, or that I am ignoring or even disgusted by something.

So when it comes to a biblical interpretation of the term “hate,” it doesn’t always mean that our freak-out, anger metre is nearing 11! It doesn’t always mean we wish death on someone. It doesn’t always mean a seething, salivating, fang-protruding vitriol we want to unleash on our target of said hate.

Ecclesiastes 3:8

What about a verse such as Ecclesiastes 3:8, where a wise Solomon was instructed by the Spirit of God to pen that there is “a time to love and a time to hate”? A time to hate? What does that mean, exactly?

Well, it has nothing to do with the dovetailing portion of the verse: “a time for war and a time for peace.”

If we go to war and kill the opposing army because we hate them with a passion and want to see them dead on account of it, some would say that is as good as murder. Others would say it is a reality of war and the fog of war. That is why someone once said that “war makes sub-human people out of people.” Yet, as my late dad (who was a combat-ready soldier in the Korean War) once explained, war essentially amounts to kill or be killed.

My father said:

“It’s either them or you. But when you start to see the bodies of your friends piling up, hate can set in.”

Yes, there is “a time to kill,” (Ecclesiastes 3:3). Yet, hate and killing are never to link justifying arms.

Somewhere along the emotional tracks of our anger, hate can certainly take over and steamroll anyone in its way. Hate for others produces a darkness within us that is antithetical to the heart of God.

In 1 John, we’re confronted with the most convicting of scriptural offerings:

“Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates a brother or sister is still in the darkness” (2:9, NIV)

God never wants our feelings towards someone (even if they’re not exactly our favourite person to be around) to be of the hate commodity — hate as we traditionally define it. Also, our love for God is not to be flaccid (see the Laodicean church in Revelation 3), for that will always affect our ability to love others the way He would have us love them.

Yet, the Scripture does permit that there is a “time to hate.” So, what are we to hate, and when are we to hate it?

A time to hate…

It’s easy to “hate” terrorism (it’s not as easy to not hate the terrorist).

It’s easy to hate heinous crimes (it’s not as easy to not hate the actual perpetrator).

It’s easy to hate all the drugs, rap music, porn and violent video games that are toxifying culture and ruining lives (it’s not as easy to love those who inflict and infect others with the vileness of their own bondage).

Here’s the deal, then, with Ecclesiastes 3:8: it is always time to hate what is sin and spiritually destructive to us and others.

Yet, I can’t help but grapple with the elephant in my own life at times, which far too often is accepting of things that are against God — loving what I shouldn’t and not hating enough what God wants to disgust me and repel my heart.

Loving Jacob; hating Esau?

Jonathan Edwards, the Puritan evangelist, once preached a sermon entitled “Those Whom God Hates, He Often Gives Plenty of Things To.” He was referring to the LORD’s hating of Esau in contrast to His love for Jacob (see Malachi 1:1-5). Jacob, of course, was an enormous inheritor and extender of the blessings the LORD promised through His covenant with Abraham. The LORD favoured Jacob over Esau, so much so that Israel (as a nation) would derive its very name from Jacob himself. But that doesn’t mean God despised Esau. In fact, the LORD blessed him immensely (see Genesis 33:9; 36:1–43).

When it comes to Scripture’s teaching, then, that there’s “a time to hate,” a great, general lesson is passed on to us in and through the events surrounding Jacob and Esau.

That is this:

God is often very good to those who are not a part of His Kingdom and its eternal blessings — to those who are unrighteous and unholy, to those who are indifferent to His existence and who vehemently oppose Him.

We are to be likewise.

Loving one’s neighbour (no matter who they are or what they do or what they believe) as one loves oneself, is part of the Great Commandment, after all. In our time of hating sin, we simply have no choice but to not hate those who commit them — even if that sinner grossly sins against us. And when it comes to our own sin, it’s fine to hate what we do that grieves the heart of God. It is never right (nor biblical), however, to hate ourselves on account of it, for not even God does, and it’s He whom we’ve really offended.

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