At the heart of the Christian message is an amazing fact: God is love. God loves you … and He loves me. There never has been and there never will be a person whom God does not love. It should cause us to dance with rejoicing, but it seldom does. The shallowness and apathy of our response should concern us and cause us to search our hearts.
Perhaps we have sinned greatly, and we wonder how God could love someone as broken and unlovely as we are.
Perhaps we have suffered much, and we wonder why God did not protect us. We may conclude that God plays favorites, and that we’ve been left out.
Perhaps in our ease and comfort, with little concept of our sin, the love of God doesn’t excite us any more, if it ever did.
When was the last time you danced for the pure joy of knowing that God loves you?
Has it been too long? Perhaps the following may be helpful.
We may begin by observing that the conditional love of God, if there is such a thing, where God loves a particular person or group for some particular reason, is not our immediate interest. Qualifying for such a position, if it is dependent on us in any way, would then become our focus. What we are looking for is explicit revelation of God’s general disposition toward all men.
When we search the scriptures to encourage ourselves in a deeper understanding of the love of God for Mankind, we might begin in Genesis and work our way through, book after book, looking for God’s revelation of His heart toward us. If we do so, we will find that there are no helpful references in Genesis, clearly stating that God loves all men. Continuing in Exodus we find the same. In fact, in book after book, searching the entire Old Testament, we find no references clearly indicating that God loves us all. While we find many references to God’s mercy, longsuffering, anger, wrath and holiness, God’s love for Mankind is not presented clearly in any context.
We might double check ourselves and give it another pass, but all we find are references to God’s love for His people Israel, and even these are few and far between. We will not find any clear revelation of God’s love for the entire human race, but rather a God who is generally grieved and angry with Man. We would be discovering that for the first four thousand years of history, although God did love Man, He chose not to reveal His general love for Mankind in a clear, simple, compelling manner. Instead, He chose to reveal His holiness and His wrath.
We may wonder at this, why God would choose to reveal Himself in this seemingly imbalanced manner. But we should search the Old Testament until we are satisfied that this is so. Then, moving ahead, we should continue on into the New Testament with a confident expectation that, surely, this will change.
Yet in searching through the first book of the New Testament, Matthew, we find an entire Gospel with no mention of God’s love for the world. In the entire ministry of Jesus Christ on earth, there is no open declaration that God loves all men. Rather, Christ is introduced by a fire-breathing John the Baptist, and follows Himself with a firm, “Repent!” (Mt 3:2, 4:17) Though there are many references to hell and God’s wrath throughout this book, there is, in fact, no mention of God’s love for anyone: not a single reference. When Matthew, a disciple of Jesus Christ Himself, wrote to tell us of Messiah … he left out something no one today would dream of leaving out.
An oversight? Then surely … in Mark, we will find an emphasis on God’s love. But no, the same can be shown for the second book, and also for the third, Luke. Many references to God’s anger and wrath, and a consistent call to repentance, but not a single reference to the love of God for Man, either for people in general or for believers as a whole. The first three Gospels are void of any reference to it.
Thankfully, the silence is broken in chapter 3 of the fourth Gospel, John. (Jn 3:16) But this lone example was with a single individual, in private, at night. In fact, John concludes his Gospel without any indication that Christ ever mentioned the universal love of God during His public ministry.
We must move on. In the record of the early church, in the Book of Acts, there is no direct reference to love of any kind: the Greek word agape does not appear in any form whatsoever in the inspired history of the early Church. In the epistles, in book after book we find the same: references to God’s love for the saints, for the church, for Israel, but no text to clearly show us that God loves all men … until we get to the third chapter of Titus. Here we find one more reference: “But after that the kindness and love of God our Saviour toward man appeared.” (vs 4) This is the second of two references in the Bible revealing that God loves all men. There are only two. Through the rest of the epistles we search, and finishing up in Revelation: there are no more.
What we are actually observing is that God does not initially reveal Himself to men as a God of love. It is clearly there, but it seems, when looking at the entire body of God’s revelation, to be rather hidden. Jude sums up what we observe in God’s approach to us: “And of some have compassion, making a difference: and others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire; hating even the garment spotted by the flesh.” (vs 22-23) God’s general pattern is to start with His holiness, moving men to a place of affliction and terror because of their sin, and only to disclose His love for us when we are well into a committed relationship with Him. There are certainly exceptions to this pattern, but this kind of in-your-face reality is evidently what most of us need.
If we look at the kind of fruit we observe from this approach, we might consider the message most significantly associated with the Second Great Awakening: Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God. The title itself is descriptive enough. God used this sermon to move people to a fearful trembling before God. It resulted in widespread repentance, faith, holy living and much joy. In contrast, almost exclusive emphasis on God’s love for several decades in the late 20th and early 21st centuries in the West has produced congregations that are generally indistinguishable from the world: faithless, lukewarm, materialistic, filled with murmurers, complainers and fornicators.
Clearly, if the Bible is any guide at all, evangelical churches have in recent times over-emphasized the love of God and this has greatly harmed the Church. Most of us, groomed within these kinds of ministries, have started out on the wrong foot with God and have grown comfortable in an imbalanced perspective. We must have a balance and a full context in these things, and we should look for that balance in Scripture. We have missed a foundational concept which gives the love of God its proper context. The result is that most of us continue to struggle to appreciate this amazing love. We should do our best to correct this.
Back to Basics
Let us then take a bit of a journey now, a journey into parts of the Bible that we may not have considered deeply, passages that may make us uncomfortable at first. When we look at the entire revelation of God’s heart, look at all He says to us about Himself and about ourselves, and the way He says it, we may find healing for our apathy.
Before we get into this, let us wisely do one thing. Let us, with all of our might, hang on to the fact with which we are so familiar, clearly stated in our Bible, that God loves us all: God loves everyone. Let us not forget it, and let us cling to it for our very lives as we proceed. God loves us, all of mankind, with an incomprehensible and infinite love. It is a love that would truly kill us if we felt it fully in our dim, brittle, mortal frames. Let us not forget this as we walk together here, but let us hold on to God’s love with only one hand, not with both hands. With the other hand, let us reach out … and let us ask God to help us grasp the rest of His heart … how He really sees us while He is loving us. This is not easily done … as we shall shortly see.
I’m God’s Favorite
Next, let us establish one more thing: God’s love for us does not necessarily imply that He likes us, that He is fond of us, that He finds us delightful in ourselves. We tend to think that God’s love for us implies that He must therefore like us. We think this way because that is the only kind of love we tend to understand. We mortals tend to love only what is pleasant and desirable to us, and that which we detest and loathe we often delight to destroy. We do not generally relate to a Nature that desires the well being of a person or a thing that it also loathes. However, because we don’t understand that kind of love, this is not in itself a good reason to presume that God’s love must be like our own.
You have very likely heard the expression, “God’s favorite.” Many are teaching us today that reminding ourselves regularly that we are “God’s favorite” helps develop a healthier self-esteem. We can, if we look hard enough, find verses in the Bible to support this idea, texts such as Isaiah 62:4b-5: “The LORD delighteth in thee. For as a young man marrieth a virgin, so shall thy sons marry thee: and as the bridegroom rejoiceth over the bride, so shall thy God rejoice over thee.” There is also Zephaniah 3:17: “The LORD thy God in the midst of thee is mighty; he will save, he will rejoice over thee with joy; he will rest in his love, he will joy over thee with singing.”
These texts do look promising to us at first glance, but a careful look at their context shows that each one speaks of a future time, apparently still afar off, in which God will rejoice in what He has done in saving us from our enemies, and even from ourselves. God is speaking of a time we have not yet seen, a time when “the righteousness (of Jerusalem will) go forth as brightness, and the salvation thereof as a lamp that burneth. And the Gentiles shall see thy righteousness, and all kings thy glory … thou shalt no more be termed Forsaken; neither shall thy land any more be termed Desolate: but thou shalt be called Hephzibah, and thy land Beulah.” (Is 62:2,4a) God presently delights in what He sees is coming, that which He will accomplish in Israel, in His Church, in saving us from evil. God does “call those things which be not as though they were,” (Ro 4:17) but at this present time we have, it seems, not come to this point in history yet. Israel, in the physical realm, is quite unrighteous: she is not free from her enemies, nor is her land called “Beulah.”
The Church herself, in the natural realm, at least what one can see of her today, is also, for the most part, an ugly, polluted, chaotic mess. When God addresses representative churches in Revelation, He says to five of the seven things like, repent or else (Re 2:5, 16, 3:3, 19) and I have a few things against thee. (Re 2:4, 14, 20) The Church of Laodicea seems to be the worst of them, being most like the churches of our day, materialistic, complacent and lukewarm. It is so bad that God says He will spit her out. (Re 3:16)He describes her as wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked. (17) Only congregations that are suffering greatly are exceptions to this pattern, and even these God does not say He delights in. Between now and the time that God rejoices over us as a people, in the physical and the spiritual realms, there will definitely need to be some deep house-cleaning.
It is therefore only in taking verses out of their context that we try to validate the popular I’m God’s Favorite T-shirt, or the I’m God’s Favorite!!!!!!!! Facebook page. Joel Osteen, in his book, It’s Your Time, says in italics: Don’t ever doubt that you are God’s favorite child! (p. 234) And from the size of Joel’s congregation it is clear that people like his message. Let’s face it: many of us have come to think that God likes us just the way we are and it makes us feel all warm and fuzzy inside. But in the end, this emphasis does seem to leave most of us in a pathetically selfish state.
We all know that there is a big difference between loving someone and liking them, of thinking of them as our favorite. Many a parent of a hateful, rebellious, strong-willed child knows this kind of love all too well. And those suffering saints who have come to truly love their enemies know it too.
God hates sin but …
We must continue by dismantling another very common idea: God hates sin but loves the sinner. This statement, as we can easily note, is not in our Bible. It was evidently crafted to help us dismiss the idea that God hates sinful people. This might be a very reasonable thing to do if it did not contradict the plain teaching of the Bible, for combining love and hatred in the same heart at the same time for the same person does seem like a bit of a stretch, even for God.
However, as difficult as it may seem at first, there actually are more than two references in the Bible that clearly reveal God’s hatred of sinful men. While I have heard hundreds of Christian songs and presentations of the gospel, as well as thousands of sermons, I have never once heard anyone explain the hatred of God for sinners with any intelligence, compassion and balance. And I think I know why.
This is a fundamental part of our problem … we don’t have the entire picture when it comes to God. We have been content with only a very small part of His heart, and this is perhaps the key reason we are unable to enjoy His love for us, why we are so prone to take His love for granted, or to reject it altogether. We need to come to a more complete understanding of God’s nature, and of our own.
What does the Bible teach about the hatred of God for men? What would happen to us if we began to understand it and proclaim it alongside the love of God? How would it affect our Christian lives, our testimony and our witness?
Is it possible that in such an unlikely place we might find a key to deep and abiding joy, a key to freedom and peace, a cure for our lukewarm hearts, healing for our selfishness and pride?
Let us see.
Definitions are Key
Let us first look carefully at the concepts of love and hatred to see if they are as incompatible, or mutually exclusive of one another, as they might at first appear to be.
Consider the following definitions in the context of a feeling we might have toward another person:
— Love a strong desire for the well-being of
— Hatred intense dislike or aversion for
Pondered carefully, we find that these words love and hatred may actually describe dispositions or feelings which are entirely unrelated to each other:
— Love describes how the lover wants the loved to be treated
— Hatred describes how the hater experiences the hated
Given these definitions, a selfish being indeed might not love someone he hates, yet an unselfish being actually might love one that he hates. A selfish being would naturally be malicious toward anyone that is an aversion to him and wish to harm or destroy them. However, an unselfish being might actually seek the well-being of others even if he is not attracted to them, even if he does not like them, even if he loathes their nature and their very presence.
But even if it is theoretically possible to envision a being that both loves and hates the same thing at the same time, what motivation would we have for trying to do so? This is simple: anything that the Bible indicates is true about God is life and breath and freedom to us. We should explore it with all diligence to understand Him more fully, as well as ourselves.
As we proceed, we do well to note the obvious: when it comes to ideas, behaviors, and concepts, the above definition for Love appears to be lacking. We cannot have a strong desire for the well-being of a concept or an idea or a behavior or an event. Our language has limitations in expressing such things, whereas other languages like Greek and Hebrew are more robust. In contexts that do not involve people we should apply a different, though still commonly accepted definition for Love: to appreciate intensely and enjoy very deeply. This is much different than the kind of unselfish, others-centered agape kind of love we have defined for contexts involving people, and this second kind of love is certainly directly related to hate, being its opposite. This can be quite confusing. Maintaining a careful distinction here based on context will help us navigate through the complexity and limitations of our language more reasonably, and help us understand some things the Bible says about our God that might otherwise remain a mystery.
To the Word
Let us turn then to perhaps one of the clearest texts in the Bible on the subject, Psalm 5:5b: “Thou hatest all workers of iniquity.” Simply, God hates everyone that … works iniquity. It cannot be said more clearly: there are people that God hates.
Consider also Proverbs 6:16-19: “These six things doth the LORD hate: yea, seven are an abomination unto him: a proud look, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, an heart that deviseth wicked imaginations, feet that be swift in running to mischief, a false witness that speaketh lies, and he that soweth discord among brethren.” The text begins poetically, merely with body parts, but finally, in the last two cases, clearly includes entire persons. Even in the poetry we get what God is saying: if God hates even the parts of the body which sin against Him, objects which have no will of their own and so are in some sense innocent, how much more does the proud or lying person, who compels these body parts to do what they do, evoke His deep hatred?
And then we have Proverbs 16:5: “Every one that is proud in heart is an abomination to the LORD.” If pride is thinking more highly of one’s self than one ought (Ro 12:3), then this text includes most all of us … who are then an abomination to God, at least to some degree. Of course, if we do happen to think of ourselves as God does … then we are not proud at all, and do not think more highly of ourselves than we should. What then?
Witness of Our Fathers
Can you think of saints in the Bible who came into the very presence of God and got a little glimpse of themselves from God’s perspective? How have our brothers in Messiah, in Christ, perceived themselves when directly exposed to the holiness of God? We have Job, who said at the end of his tribulations: “I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth thee. Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 42:5-6) When Job came into God’s manifest presence, how did Job view himself? Upon experiencing God first-hand, Job found himself to be disgusting, despicable, and loathsome: Job abhorred himself! Should we think that Job was seeing himself worse than he was, or can we presume that he was seeing somewhat truly? If truly … if Job, in seeing himself more as he really was, thought this way about himself, could God see him any less accurately, or more favorably?
And then we might consider Isaiah, who “saw also the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up.” What did Isaiah experience in God’s presence? Isaiah cried out, “Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts.” (Is 6:5) Isaiah, the holy prophet, was crushed to the point of absolute dread in the presence of God’s holiness, screaming out because of his own sinfulness. And what did he say afterward of the rest of us? “But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.” (Is 64:6) Filthy rags … the kind you handle with rubber gloves and keep at arm’s length, stopping your nose and shielding your eyes. That is how God experiences the very best of us. “Verily every man at his best state is altogether vanity.” (Ps 39:5)
God Still Sees our Sin
Some might contend that this is all well and good for those who are outside of Jesus Christ, who have not been washed in the blood of Christ and had their sins put as far away from them as the east is from the west. They would argue that God does not see the sins of the saints who are in Jesus Christ, but that God sees His children as spotless and righteous, without sin.
Are we to say then that Job and Isaiah were outside of Christ? That David and Abraham had some other way of finding right standing with God? Romans 4 builds the case of justification by faith on the lives of Abraham and David. These saints who abhorred themselves would never have been able to get near God outside of Jesus Christ.
If God does not see the sin of believers, and grieve over it, then He would have ignored David’s sin with Bathsheba, and Moses striking the rock in Kadesh (Numbers 20:1-13). If this were God’s perspective He would not judge believers in this life, nor could He be grieved by us. But God does judge the saints. We have already seen God’s threats and grief with most of His churches in Revelation. We also have Peter’s blanket warning: “For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God?” (1Pe 4:17)
As an example, God judged many of the Corinthian believers because they partook of Passover unworthily, such that many of them became sick, and some even died: “For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep. For if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged. But when we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world.” (1Co 11:30-32) Finally, God also exhorts us as believers to not grieve the Holy Spirit, (Ep 4:30) so it should be clear that God does in fact see and experience the sin of believers in Christ. God certainly has removed the penalty of sin from His saints, He has declared us to be righteous in Christ and does not ever truly punish believers for sin, but He still experiences and responds to the present reality of our sin with both grief and corrective discipline. (He 12:5-8)
Several scriptures that may at first seem contradictory here relate to God not remembering our sins any more (Jer 31:34, Heb 8:12, 10:17) and separating our sins from us as far as the east is from the west. (Ps 103:12). It appears the only way to avoid blatant contradiction is to consider the omniscience and timelessness of God; He is in all points of time at all times and there is never anything that He does not always know. “Remember” in this context must not mean that God cannot recall or recollect, but that God does not bring up the past for the purposes of confronting and judging, which is a reasonable meaning of the word remember and is seen in contexts such as 3 John 1:10: “I will remember his deeds.” John is not stating that he will in the future be able to recall the past, he is implying that he intends to bring up that past in a confrontational manner. We can see the same in God’s pending judgment of Babylon the Great: “God hath remembered her iniquities.” It isn’t that God ever actually forgot about them, but that He is about to confront her with them and deal with her accordingly. When we think of God not remembering our sin we should understand it in this context: God does not intend to reject believers because of their sin since they are justified in Christ, but God is not ignorant of our sin and still responds to it in holiness.
Regarding the scope of God’s view of sin then, is it just a few of us that God sees this way, or is it all of us? “The LORD looked down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there were any that did understand, and seek God. They are all gone aside, they are all together become filthy: there is none that doeth good, no, not one.” (Ps 14:2-3) When God looks down He sees both saints and sinners, He sees people inside Christ and outside of Him, and He says that all mortal men are filthy. In Romans 3, Paul continues God’s description of all of us, saints and unbelievers alike, in a manner that is difficult to misunderstand.
11 There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. 12 They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one. 13 Their throat is an open sepulchre; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips: 14 Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness: 15 Their feet are swift to shed blood: 16 Destruction and misery are in their ways: 17 And the way of peace have they not known: 18 There is no fear of God before their eyes.
Jeremiah summarizes well when he says, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” (17:9) The human heart is fully bent on pursuing wickedness. No one has yet seen how terribly wicked it is. Filthy, disgusting, abominable — this is how God sees every living human being.
Perhaps then it is not so curious that Jesus Christ’s own brother, Jude, as he exhorts us in spreading the gospel, calls us to work most often with a motive of fear: “And of some have compassion, making a difference: and others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire; hating even the garment spotted by the flesh.” (Jude 22-23) There are, it seems, a few exceptions, but most people need help to understand how absolutely loathsome they are to God, and how angry and disgusted He is with them. This should move anyone outside of Christ to a dreadful trembling. This is the Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God approach to evangelism. From a look at the fruit, it is more effective than trying to woo God’s enemies with His love. We should not be talking about the love of God with most folks, but rather about God’s hatred. And not only God’s hatred, but our own hatred should be obvious, of them and of ourselves; hatred even, as it were, to the very clothing.
We can see this in Christ Himself, if we look closely. Recall His exasperation with the disciples when they could not heal a demon-possessed boy. O faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you? how long shall I suffer you? (Mt 17:17) Christ loved the disciples deeply, but let us not think that He liked them personally and enjoyed their company. It may not be so among sinful men, for the little bit that we can see of Christ in others, especially in believers, is generally speaking an unspeakable comfort and delight to us. The company of the saints is certainly a rich blessing, but let us not presume that it is so for God … at least not while we remain on the earth in our dreadfully sinful states.
God is afflicted by our sinful nature; it grieves Him, irritates Him, disgusts Him and wounds Him. So, when God calls believers to draw near to Himself He commands us to be afflicted about this as well: Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded. Be afflicted, and mourn, and weep: let your laughter be turned to mourning, and your joy to heaviness. (Ja 4:8-9) It is not that we are to do this all the time, for then we could never rejoice in God either, but there are certainly seasons which God has set aside for us to afflict our souls like this, and it is a very healthy thing to do.
If you could really see yourself with a holy heart, see yourself as you truly are, the way God sees you … you would scream. You would be a terror to yourself … as would every other person you have ever known. I can testify from experience that this is wonderfully painful … yet it is the kind of pain you long to continue in … because it is holy and true. But we cannot continue in such undiluted clarity for very long though … it renders us incapable of functioning. We must be veiled somewhat in this as we live down here on earth, but we should not be blind.
No, God is not fond of you. God does not like you, or admire you. God is not attracted to you; you are not “God’s favorite” … but more like a filthy clump of rags to Him.
Yet (let’s not forget our other hand now) God does indeed love you … with a remarkable love indeed.
Does God’s love for you, in this context, a context that honors His holiness, prompt a deep welling of appreciation within? Or does it still bore you, disinterest you, fall lifelessly upon a calloused heart? Are you overcome by His love, startled at it, awed by His love for you? If not, perhaps it is because you don’t yet understand who and what it is that God is loving when He loves you. Perhaps you think you are lovable, that it is quite natural for God to love you, and that any other alternative is simply unreasonable. Nothing could be farther from the truth.
Let’s put it this way … if there was any way that you could possibly sin so much that God would not still love you very deeply, then it would already be done … God would be gone. You have already sinned so much against God that it is indeed amazing that He still loves you. It is stunning. It makes the angels marvel, that He loves the likes of you.
No, you cannot sin away the love of God. No one can. No matter what you have done or ever will do. God loves you and He always will. However, that said, God has never actually liked you one little bit. If it was some selfish being like us sitting up there on the throne of heaven, you and I would have been squished like ugly, filthy little bugs long, long ago.
Let’s put it another way … God loves us because of Who He is, not because of who we are … He loves us in spite of who we are. God loves the villain in every movie, every vicious murderer, every despot. While He detests us all more than we could ever detest one another, yet at the same time He is also more benevolent and merciful toward every single one of us than you or I can possibly imagine. What a truly glorious Being this is!! What a love He has for us!
God Calls Us to Hate
God is not only glorious in this, but our God, in Jesus Christ, is also our example in these things, calling us to “follow in His steps.” (1 Peter 2:21) His hatred and His love are both His work in us as we grow in Him.
One of the few things commended in the early churches is hatred: But this thou hast, that thou hatest the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. (Re 2:6,15) God hates the deeds and the doctrine of the wicked, certainly. When we do as well, we reflect His heart and we are a partaker with Him. In this He commends us.
We are indeed encouraged to hate our enemies, even ourselves, but it is not a malicious kind of hatred. The Psalmist says in a most startling text, “Do not I hate them, O LORD, that hate thee? and am not I grieved with those that rise up against thee? I hate them with perfect hatred: I count them mine enemies.” (Ps 139:21-2) There is a kind of hatred that God both commends in us and calls us to, a perfect kind of hatred. It loathes the sinful person because of sin, but it does not seek their harm.
In what may seem like contradiction, while God commends perfect hatred He also commands us to love: “But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you. That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same? And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so? Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” (Mt 5:44-8) God is calling us to be like Himself. You have an example to follow: God loves you, even if you remain His enemy, with a supernatural love.
Perhaps the best way to understand this is to look at hatred and love as companions: both are sinful when sourced in a self-ward heart, and both are holy when they spring from a God-ward heart.
There is a righteous love, and there is a wicked love. Love for God and righteousness is wholesome, and love of the world is sick: “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.” (1Jn 2:15)
Notice that if one loves the world, then one does not love God. If one loves the Lord, then one hates evil: “Ye that love the LORD, hate evil.” (Ps 97:10) “The fear of the LORD is to hate evil: pride, and arrogancy, and the evil way, and the froward mouth, do I hate.” (Pr 8:13)
Hatred and love are the intrinsic expressions of every heart. What we love, its opposite we hate. The two emotions spring from the very same heart with the very same motive. If we love humility, then we hate arrogance, as God hates pride and loves humility. If we love the world we cannot love the kingdom of God, and if we love God we will hate the god of this world. If we love righteousness and goodness we will hate wickedness and evil … and visa versa. “No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.” (Mt 6:24) See how hate and love go together … and cannot be separated?
I hate vain thoughts: but thy law do I love. (Ps 119:113) I hate and abhor lying: but thy law do I love. (vs 163) Through thy precepts I get understanding: therefore I hate every false way. (vs 104)
“The fear of the LORD is to hate evil: pride, and arrogancy, and the evil way, and the froward mouth, do I hate.” (Pr 8:13) The wicked have no fear of God, hence they have no hatred of evil. If you have no hatred for evil, then you have no fear of God, and you have no love for God: “Ye that love the LORD, hate evil.” (Ps 97:10a) As you love, you hate.
The opposite of love is not hate … the opposite of both hate and love is apathy. Caring intensely is both love and hate: the opposite of caring intensely is not caring at all. If you have no hatred, then you have no love. If you do not care … to hate or love … you serve nothing … you are dysfunctional, immobile, sick, broken.
To study perfect hatred is to study perfect love. To have the one is to have the other. To lack either is to be empty of both.
How is it that we are to love and hate at the same time? How does God love and hate? God loves by caring and He hates by caring.
God loves us by providing for our eternal welfare and promoting our good; God seeks our spiritual and earthly good and waits for us to repent. He has compassion on us when we are sick and He heals us; when we are hungry He feeds us, when we are thirsty He leads us to water; when we are cold He provides a means of shelter. God mercifully sends both rain and sunshine to those of us who are wicked, makes our crops to grow and sustains our livestock with health and strength. He gives us jobs, wealth, family, pleasure. He cares deeply for the wicked, and in His goodness God patiently and persistently leads us to repentance.
God hates the nature of sinners because He cares about obedience and holiness; He hates the way we are, the very fabric of our frame and constitution, what we do, why we do it, and how we think. God hates what sinners love and loves what sinners hate. “That which is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God.” (Lk 16:15b) There is absolutely nothing about a sinner that God admires, understands, appreciates, or accepts. Every sinner is altogether loathsome to God, abhorrent to Him, despicable, detestable, vile. God hates absolutely everything about a sinner, because He passionately loves holiness and there is absolutely nothing holy about a wretched sinner: every sinner is altogether and intensely unholy. “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” (Je 17:9) “But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags.” (Is 64:6)
The same heart that finds passionate love for Jesus Christ will likewise find passionate hatred for Satan. What draws forth unspeakable adoration for the holiness and purity of Jesus Christ will likewise draw forth violent revulsion for the corruption and filthiness of the Devil. The two responses are identical in nature, both springing from the same source and having the same intrinsic qualities and properties, being consistently appropriate responses to opposite stimuli. What creates love likewise creates hatred.
A selfish and wicked heart hates a man and seeks to destroy him. A righteous heart hates a man and seeks his welfare. A wicked man loves darkness, hates light, and avoids the light because his deeds are evil. (John 3:19) A righteous heart loves the light (1 John 5:1). The wicked take pleasure in the wickedness of others (Rom 1:32) and love them (Jn 15:19a). A child of the light grieves over sin and rejoices in the truth (1Co 13:6). The saint hates and abhors lying, vain thoughts and every false way (Ps 119:128,163), but loves the law of God, His testimonies, and His statutes (Ps 119:127,159). Consistently, the wicked also hate the children of God (Jn 15:19b) and seek to destroy them (John 16:2), and as we have seen, the righteous hate the wicked and yet seek to bless them. In either state, the source of the love and hate is the same.
What makes hatred right or wrong is the heart from which it springs, it’s motivation, not the hatred or love itself.
As God’s love is an entirely perfect love, His hatred is entirely perfect. While we seek to emulate God we must be careful in both.
A Balanced Perspective
Jesus said it like this. The person who has hurt you the most … it’s like they’ve borrowed $10 from you and are asking you to forget about it … like you do with God when you owe Him a million, and He lets you off scot-free. (Mt 18:23-35) It certainly is right to hate a person that willfully wounds both us and God and doesn’t seem to care. But it is ignorance to think that we ourselves are not like this, in a manner worse than those who harm us.
It is also wrong to be malicious toward others in this hatred, to wish harm to them in return for their sin against us or against others. We must seek the welfare of others independently of how they act and how we feel about them. This is exactly what God does with us, with all of us.
The reason we have a hard time forgiving others is because we don’t have any idea how much God has forgiven us, how much He forgives us every single day. If we had any idea how much we grieve Him and wound Him and disgust Him, even an inkling of it, this little glimpse of truth would put the sins of others against us in a much clearer perspective. What others have done to us is nothing compared to what we have done, and are still doing, to God. He forgives us, ought not we to forgive others as well?
Having trouble loving your enemies, desiring the best for them? Maybe it’s because you don’t think you are God’s enemy, and so you take His loving you for granted, as if it were no big deal for God to love someone like yourself. But if you worry much about earthly things then Paul says with tears that you are an enemy of God. (Php 3:18) Does that make your heart sink? Does that grieve you? Put a pit in your stomach? It should. It really is a big deal that God loves the likes of you. It is something you should never, ever get over.
Consider God’s command in Philippians 2:3: “Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves.” The command to view other people as better than ourselves, no matter who they are or what they are like, is only possible if we become much more fully aware of our own sinful hearts.
Your own heart is the only one that you will ever know firsthand, and even that you will never fully know. (Je 17:9) In being more aware of our own sin, God instructs us to conclude that if we were in the circumstances of others, with their parents and background and influences, that we would likely be acting worse than they are. Paul agreed with this sentiment when he admitted that, from his own perspective, he was the chief of sinners.” This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief.” (1Ti 1:15) Perhaps Paul was not merely being poetic here, but knowing his own sinful heart perhaps was exemplifying God’s command to esteem all others as better than himself.
This perspective identifies and clarifies what is so wrong about pride … it is a denial of everything you and I are, and of everything God is. It is glorying in that which is disgusting to God, exalting in that which is an abomination to Him: our very selves. When you see that God hates you, pride is not an option: it is insanity.
Finally, this perspective may shed some light on the mysterious words of our Lord in Luke 14:26: “If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.” Many have taken a stab at this by claiming that our love for God should be so strong that our love for others would be like hate, but this is not what our Lord said. Jesus said that we are to hate our loved ones, and even our own life. Because we don’t know how to love and hate the same thing at the same time we have not known what to do with this command. Even so, it is not optional. If we are to go after Christ we must get this.
Perhaps now we have some idea about it. Seeing the majesty and holiness and power and wisdom of God might cause us to loathe all that is opposed to Him and contrary to Him and outside of Him. This includes all sinful human nature, both in ourselves and in our loved ones. There is a perfect, non-malicious, loving hatred that God has for us while we remain in the flesh, and He evidently calls us to have this kind of hatred for ourselves and for all others.
To the Street
Surely, this is too high for us to fully comprehend. We have touched on a mystery, the hatred and love of God, trying as best we can to grasp these truths in both hands, holding on to both at the same time. Indeed, it is not an easy thing to do, but as J Vernon McGee used to say, we must try to put some shoe leather on it, and let it change the way we live.
The proposed definitions for love and hate appear to be consistent with scripture, and enable us to see how both of these seemingly contrary dispositions can be present in God at the same time and for the same objects. Also, there are no texts in scripture to the contrary, suggesting that God, in this present time, delights in us, in our natural state, in any way, shape or form. We can see that the biblical perspective tends to magnify our awe and joy in the love of God, as well as moving us toward deep personal humility, longsuffering and forgiveness. It enables us to love our enemies, just as God loves us.
Our experiences in this life, of both love and hatred, are merely faint shadows of the love and hatred of God, and our selfish hearts strain under the weight of them, even these dim shadows. So let us not pretend to understand it fully yet, but to humbly agree with the wisest of all sinful humans, Solomon, who said so insightfully long ago, “No man knoweth either love or hatred by all that is before them.” (Ec 9:1b) Let us, instead, admit that the love of God is more amazing than we can ever fully know, and that we, in our own sinfulness, are likewise more dreadful to Him than we can ever fully know. Let us ask God to reveal both His love and His hatred to us so that we are filled with His heart toward ourselves and others, that we might not only love, but also hate ourselves and others with a perfect hatred, being disgusted and grieved with everything that is outside of Jesus Christ. And let us follow the admonition of the apostle Paul with a more deeply held and internalized conviction: “Therefore let no man glory in men.” (1Co 3:21) “But he that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord.” (2Co 10:17)