Does God hate sinners? Many have told me so, from both the far left and the far right, but I am far from convinced of this myself. For having searched the scriptures I have seen many instances in which God says, this I hate, but almost invariably the reference is to actions, not to people; to behaviours, not to the perpetrators. The scriptures talk of people hating God and of people hating each other, frequently so. But as for God hating people? There is a vast void by comparison. Indeed in all of scripture I have found only four illusions to God hating anyone.
But let’s look at them more closely before jumping to conclusions. The first is Psalm 5:5-6 where the Psalmist says, “You hate all who do wrong; you destroy those who tell lies.” This is very suggestive, but it’s important to remember genre here. This is a psalm, not a prophecy. This is not God saying something about God’s own self. This is something being said about God by someone else. It’s not quite the slam dunk. The next, Psalm 11:5, is a similar case. The next is Malachi 1:3, where God says, “but Esau I have hated, and I have turned his hill country into a wasteland and left his inheritance to the desert jackals.” But it is clear from the context that God is speaking figuratively about the nation of Edom, again, a thing, not the flesh and blood Esau. Then next is Romans 9:13, where Paul is quoting the same passage in Malachi. So what looks like clear examples at first glance turns out to be a lot more tenuous.
So what about Jesus? Jesus is after all the very image of the invisible God according to scripture. Is there anyone Jesus says he hates? Well, the saying that comes closest to suggesting this is Luke 14:26, where he says, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple.” Yet again, not so fast, Jesus has long been recognized as a speaker who used hyperbole, exaggeration, as a rhetorical technique. If you doubt this is hyperbole in this case, consider who his mother is! Mary! Did he hate her or love her? No, all Jesus is suggesting here by “hate” is that everyone needs to come a distant second to God. And if we ever doubt this we only need to remember that this was the man who said, not only to love one another, but extended that to even loving enemies. Just in case we misunderstood him.
And what does God say of love and mercy and forgiveness by way of contrast? Volumes.
So it is clear what God puts weight on. Are we any greater than the master? Do we have license to go beyond the Lord? Though the Lord expresses judgement at times, we are clearly told to leave judgement to God. Though the Lord expresses anger at times, we are clearly warned against letting anger leading us into sin. How much more careful should we be with something so much stronger: hate. Is it a word we should casually fling around? How wary should we be of attributing it to God? How much more wary should we be of exercising it ourselves, beyond the warrant of God?
Hate what God hates, yes. Hate who God loves? You just may be condemning yourself.