Recently we had a good debate about hatred. I appreciate those comments and the discussion that ensued. I still hold to the idea that God does not command us to hate, that we are not called to hatred simply because the bible tells us God Himself hates, nor do I believe hatred is a Christian value or virtue.
It is an emotion, not a calling.
Nor do I really hold to the idea that we should soften the word “hate” when we find it in scripture so it means something more akin to “love less.” However, here is an excellent article about that. It touches on language and culture, on understanding the more passionate language used in the bible and what is being conveyed in the context of culture at the time it was written. I appreciated this, because I recently had a conversation with a couple of missionaries in the Middle East and they too spoke of precisely the same thing, of culture and the extreme language that sometimes feels like hyperbole to them. Like how it is not unusual for a casual acquaintance to grab you and tell you how much they love you. “Love” and “hate” are used both casually and poetically and one’s honor and pride are really the central focus of just about everything, which can feel really foreign to more staid, Western sensibilities.
Clearly scripture uses the word “hate” quite frequently. If perceiving it as meaning “love less” is helpful, than by all means, do that. Myself, I prefer not to soften those words for a variety of reasons, one being that by the time we get to actually looking at sin or evil, “love-less” no longer really works. We aren’t really called to love sin a bit less than we do righteousness, so the translation begins to fall apart when it moves away from this context.
There is another way of perceiving the word “hatred” in the bible however, the method that I tend to use, where it provides a contrast for our hearts, a mirror reflection of the same kind of deep, passionate, emotion we are supposed to be directing towards love. The opposite of love is not hatred, it is indifference. On an emotional level hatred and love can run pretty close together, flip sides of the same coin. So if we can hate something intensely, we can flip that same kind of passion and intensity over to love.
Luke 14:26 is a good example of this, “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.”
We are not being commanded to hate our families here, or even to love them less, we are being told to love God, to put Him first, with all the intensity and passion that we would usually reserve for hatred. God must become more important to us than all our other sentimentality and attachments, including our own lives. The language being used here is actually rhetoric and hyperbole, deliberately designed to trigger an emotional response.
Luke 10:27 says, “And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”
How do we know what it looks and feels like to love God with all our heart, soul, and strength? Well, remember when you hated so badly every inch of your being wanted revenge on your enemies? Love God with that same kind of passion and intensity. That is part of what Luke 14:26 is conveying.
I have been really blessed by some of these passages. God put them right in front of me and imparted some wisdom I so desperately needed at the time. So they do not offend me at all, I am not uncomfortable with them, they can life saving. If you are surrounded on all sides by really dysfunctional family or in a bad relationship, Luke 14:26 can be the reminder, just the permission you need to put God first, to invest all your passion and energy into your relationship with Him, forsaking all others.