Some of you probably think that the answer to this question is blatantly obvious; of course He doesn’t! God hates no-one…
But the bible is a complex book, trying to convey to us the knowledge of a complex, infinite God who cannot – as much as we don’t want to admit it – be fully conveyed by finite words. Not all of His actions in some places can be easily reconciled to the idea of an all loving God. Throughout the bible, He has decreed death and destruction to many cities and nations through His prophets, and often it seems like He deals with some hatefully.
I know some Christians who would at the notion of even considering that God hates anyone; verses such as John 3:16 (“For God so loved the world…”) and 1 John 4:8 (“God is Love”) state He is loving. Thus God is a loving God, right?
But then Malachi comes along, and wallops us with this;
“‘I have loved you,’ says the Lord. But you say, ‘How have you loved us?’ ‘Is not Esau Jacob’s brother?’ declares the Lord. ‘Yet I have loved Jacob but Esau I have hated. I have laid waste his hill country and left his heritage to jackals of the desert.'” – Malachi 1:2 (ESV)
Now, I can guess what you are thinking; this verse is from the old testament, before Jesus’ death and resurrection; Jesus was much nicer than the God of the Old Testament. That little bit of thinking I have encountered in a lot of people, myself included. For reasons I cannot comprehend, it seems to be deep seated within Christian thought, even if there is little evidence to suggest it; when confronted with verses like this, we almost unknowingly slip into the thought process that the OT = angry God and the NT = loving God. We often disavow this thinking aloud, but I know that I sometimes slip into this thinking, even though I see so much in the OT and NT to contest this simple idea.*
And then a verse like this comes to throw a spanner even into that thought;
“Now great crowds accompanied him, and he turned and said to them, ‘If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.'” – Luke 14:25-27
I could spend forever scrawling through scripture to find every documented mention of God and hatred in the same verse, but for time’s sake I am going to stick with these two verses about God hating; one from the Old, one from the New.
We are forced to ask the question, from these verses, as to whether God hates people, and whether Jesus actually commanded us to hate our own flesh and blood.
These are uncomfortable questions, especially since I truly believe that God is Love, as the bible says He is. It’s all the more reason to ask such a question.
On the surface of it, we are faced with a seeming contradiction; a God of Love and Him hating, even telling others to hate. The first we question we must ask is what the word truly means; the bible is, after all, a translated text. Every language will have nuances and words that do not translate well into others, and some scriptural evidence would suggest that the word translated as ‘hate’ in the verses above may be the latter.
Leah the less-loved
In Genesis chapter 29 it is written that Jacob worked and toiled for seven years in order to marry Rachel, the woman he loved from the moment he laid eyes on her. Laban, Rachel’s father, screwed Jacob over, giving him Rachel’s older sister – Leah – to him on his wedding night. Angry, but determined, Jacob worked another seven years in order to marry Leah as well.
Soap opera-esque antics aside, two verses in this chapter grants us a lot of insight into the true meaning of the word ‘hate’ in the scriptures. For, in verse 30, it says –
So Jacob went into Rachel also, and he loved Rachel more than Leah, and served Laban for another seven years
Rachel was loved more than Leah; Leah was the less-loved. It seems like I am repeating the point over and over that Leah was less loved, but it is important to note, for the next verse says –
When the Lord saw that Leah was hated, he opened her womb, but Rachel was barren.
Within a verse, Leah has gone from being less loved to being hated. This seems incongruous if we hold to the English definition of hate, but biblically – if this verse is to be taken at face value – it is possible that hate does not meant hate at all, but rather “to love less”. This utterly transforms the meanings of otherwise-difficult verses, and highlights the danger of blindly trusting a translation (even a good translation) on the meanings behind the words used. For instance, Jesus’ words from Luke 14, with this idea in mind, suddenly become much easier to understand (and are much more in line with the character, attributes and actions he has/does in the gospels):
“Now great crowds accompanied him, and he turned and said to them, ‘If anyone comes to me and does not love less his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.'”
The word hate in the bible, whenever used, does not have the same meaning as it does in normal, everyday usage. But such a question of translation only lays the groundwork for the actual question; does God actually hate anyone?
Throughout scripture, God is shown destroying, chastising, crushing and undermining many who fly in the face of his commands to – in the words of Micah – live justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with God. From Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis), to the plagues upon Egypt (Exodus), all the way through to the numerous sackings of Jerusalem and the kingdoms of Israel and Judah (1&2 Kings), and even the sudden death of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts), a pattern emerges that can, from a certain point of view, argue that yes; God hates.
Personally, however, I believe it highlights another important point when discussing this topic; the need to distinguish between hate and wrath.
The wrath of God
The doctrine of the wrath of God is often forgotten in modern Christian thinking. I’m sure there are many infinitely more correct explanations as to why this has happened than my own opinion, but I cannot help but wonder whether it has been sidelined in order to make God more “accessible”, more “gentle”, and more “loving” (i.e. much like hate above, loving here has a different meaning; in my experience, whenever someone speaks about God as ‘loving’, they have tended to mean “permissive”). Yes, the bible does describe God as our loving Father, that God is Love, and these are glorious truths. But it also calls Him the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, our righteous Judge, and the King of Kings who destroys armies in His anger. As is often true of God, being both All Loving (i.e. Omni-benevolent) and the justly wrathful King and Judge of all seems, at first, a contradiction. Yet, looking at scripture, I personally find it harder and harder to separate the two; often, it seems, these two polar roles come intertwined in the way God deals with humanity to that point that you cannot see God as loving without His wrath, because it always gets unleashed in defence of the oppressed and the crushed.
This passage from Jeremiah chapter 5 sums up what I am trying to get at very well;
Therefore thus says the LORD, the God of hosts: “Because you have spoken this word,
behold, I am making my words in your mouth a fire, and this people wood, and the fire shall consume them. Behold, I am bringing against you a nation from afar, O house of Israel, declares the LORD. It is an enduring nation; it is an ancient nation,
a nation whose language you do not know, nor can you understand what they say. Their quiver is like an open tomb; they are all mighty warriors. They shall eat up your harvest and your food; they shall eat up your sons and your daughters; they shall eat up your flocks and your herds; they shall eat up your vines and your fig trees; your fortified cities in which you trust they shall beat down with the sword. But even in those days, declares the LORD, I will not make a full end of you. And when your people say, ‘Why has the LORD our God done all these things to us?’ you shall say to them, ‘As you have forsaken me and served foreign gods in your land, so you shall serve foreigners in a land that is not yours.’” Declare this in the house of Jacob; proclaim it in Judah:
“Hear this, O foolish and senseless people, who have eyes, but see not, who have ears, but hear not. Do you not fear me? declares the LORD. Do you not tremble before me? I placed the sand as the boundary for the sea, a perpetual barrier that it cannot pass; though the waves toss, they cannot prevail; though they roar, they cannot pass over it. But this people has a stubborn and rebellious heart; they have turned aside and gone away.
They do not say in their hearts, ‘Let us fear the LORD our God, who gives the rain in its season, the autumn rain and the spring rain, and keeps for us the weeks appointed for the harvest.’ Your iniquities have turned these away, and your sins have kept good from you. For wicked men are found among my people; they lurk like fowlers lying in wait. They set a trap; they catch men.
Like a cage full of birds, their houses are full of deceit; therefore they have become great and rich;
they have grown fat and sleek. They know no bounds in deeds of evil; they judge not with justice
the cause of the fatherless, to make it prosper, and they do not defend the rights of the needy.
Shall I not punish them for these things? declares the LORD,
and shall I not avenge myself on a nation such as this?”
Just in case it wasn’t abundantly clear; that was God speaking to Israel, His own chosen and covenanted people. This text is full of wrath, but the love of God can also be seen; He is sending destruction upon Israel because they were committing evil by oppressing the poor, needy and fatherless. God was coming to the defence of human beings who He loves, by unleashing His wrath upon those who dared to oppress them.
The righteous, wrathful Judge and the God of Love; both aspects of God’s character are present in this text.
Does God hate anyone? My personal opinion is that no, He doesn’t. Throughout scripture, God is shown repeatedly to bring wrath upon those who oppress and destroy, yet is shown as willing to forgive them as well (the story of Israel’s relationship with God is testament to that). He metes out mercy to those who deserve mercy, and wrath to those who deserves wrath.
Ultimately, however, you should read through the scriptures, listen to sermons on it, and decide yourself.
* Side note: the man who first came up with that idea – Marcion – was denounced as a heretic for pretty much ejecting much of Christian doctrine, in the 2nd century AD. He was also the one who separated the Tanakh and the Gospels into the ‘Old’ Testament and ‘New’ Testament…which we still use to this day.