POSTED ON MAY 4, 2011:
Hate the game, not the player
Who does God hate? There are many people in our culture who feel quite comfortable answering such a question. Some say God hates their enemies. Others say God hates people based on sexual preference. Many act like God hates everyone except themselves and perhaps those who are just like them, though it is impossible to know who is genuine and who is faking.
Does God, in fact, hate people? A human being would have to be pretty significant to be able to get under God's skin to the point that He responds with hate. When I first started going to church, I remember hearing the phrase: "God hates sin but He loves sinners." After nearly 20 years of regular church attendance, I couldn't even estimate how many times I've heard it. This phrase, which is really a theological statement, is sometimes turned into an application for believers: "Hate the sin, love the sinner."
Whereas I have seen many people, including myself, fail to live according to such a standard, it was only recently that I saw the antithesis in print for the first time. In his book Radical, evangelical leader David Platt says: "God doesn't just hate sin. God hates sinners." He refers to Psalm 5:5, which says of God, " ... You hate all who do wrong."
Platt's point in the pages that follow is that American Christianity has overemphasized the idea of self-worth causing many people to believe that they are right with God by nature of their "goodness," when in fact the Bible teaches that "none are righteous" apart from faith in Jesus Christ. From a biblical perspective the idea of false assurance is a strong point to be sure. But does it jive with the idea that God actually hates sinners?
During discussions about Platt's book with a group of very intelligent people, a wide range of opinions about this statement emerged. Some defended Platt's words by saying, "He just means that God punishes sinners who fail to repent before death."
Others said, "If God chooses to hate sinners then that's His prerogative. He's God and if He does something it must be right."
The majority, however, said something like, "I just can't agree with those words. God doesn't hate anyone, He just hates their sinful behavior." I, too, fell into this third group. To say God hates anyone just doesn't feel right to me. Rather than just basing my opinion on feelings, however, I have opted for a more pragmatic approach. Since most people who claim that God hates someone else are referring to the God of the Bible, I decided to expound on the word hate in the Old and New Testaments.
If you search the words "Bible" and "hate" on Google, you are sure to find some of the most worthless interpretation of the Bible that has ever existed. The top web hits will be from hate-mongering people who are quick to point out who God hates and who he doesn't based on pure ideology and very little Scripture. They all use the English translation of hate in the Bible to mean the same thing. Instead of using Google, let's use the Hebrew Old Testament and Greek New Testament.
In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word qot (pronounced "cote") is often translated as "hate" but is best translated as "loathing." It is a deep and dreadful aversion to something that is tantamount to repulsion. This word is used less frequently and often refers to the way one feels about himself or herself after committing wrong-doing (see Ezekiel 20:43).
The New Testament, of which our oldest copies are in Greek, uses the word miseo (pronounced "miss-ay-oh"). This word is used 40 times in the New Testament. In nearly every case, the word refers to hating a person's actions, whether one's own or those of another. It is likely that the New Testament word derived, not from qot, but from a word use far more often.
The most common word for hate that is attributed to God is the Old Testament Hebrew word senah (pronounced "say-nah"), which is a word that often describes the sentiments of a person towards his or her enemy. The idea is much more than a feeling of hatred, it is robust opposition. This is in fact the word that is used in the psalm that Platt cites. This word is used for God on multiple occasions, in every case referring to God's opposition towards habitual evil and those who practice evil as a part of their lifestyle.
God expects His people to be opposed to evil in the same way (Psalm 97:10). At times the word is used generally, like the reference to "those who do wrong" in Psalm 5:5. Other times the word is used regarding God's opposition to a specific group of people who were known for oppression, like the Edomites, who were descendants of Esau (Malachi 1:3). One of the most important and least-known uses of senah comes from Proverbs 6:16-19: "There are six things the LORD hates, seven that are detestable to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush into evil, a false witness who pours out lies and a person who stirs up conflict in the community."(NIV)
The meaning of senah is less our understanding of deep hatred and more the idea of opposition and rejection. God is opposed to noses turned up in the air. He rejects lying. He hates the harming of the innocent. He does not put up with evil schemers and those who are eager to do wrong. He stands against false witnesses and habitual liars. He opposes trouble-mongers ... in fact I would argue that He opposes the aforementioned hate mongers who claim His favor on their public slander.
Based on biblical evidence, the best understanding of hate, as it relates to God, is that God hates injustice. The best way to ensure that God is NOT on your side has nothing to do with human allegiance, sexual preference, or religious membership. Having evil in your heart, practicing it with your hands and destroying others as a result evokes the senah of God.
The Bible doesn't present ideology as the solution to the human problem of sin and evil. The Bible presents Jesus. Jesus is the answer to the question I asked first. God's decision to offer Jesus freely for the eternal good of people confirms that God hates no one and God loves everyone. Romans 8:39b: "(nothing) in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus."
-(Eric Costanzo is Minister of Community Ministries and Teaching Pastor at First Baptist Church in downtown Tulsa.)
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