Who Do We Get to Hate?

As followers of Jesus, who do we get to hate?

Do we get to hate people who talk during the movies, even beyond the previews? What about people who chew with their mouths open? Chipper talkative people who are obnoxiously loud in the morning? People who try to talk to us while we are on the phone? Do we get to hate them?

How about the guy who pulls out in front of us causing us to hit the brakes when we are driving down the road? Or how about the the rusted-out four-door circa-1998-sedan that drives below the speed limit in the passing lane on the interstate? Do we get to hate them?

What about people who blame us for things we never did? So-called “friends” who betray us, lie about us, or spread nasty little rumors about us? People who litter. People who make jokes at the expense of the disabled, the underprivileged, or the aged. Do we get to hate them?

What about rapists, murderers, and those who abuse children? How about the guy who regularly slaps his girlfriend and threatens her into silent suffering? How about terrorists, both foreign and domestic, who steal, kill, and destroy in order to blanket people with fear? Do we get to hate them?

David hated some people. As followers of Jesus, who do we get to hate? Click To Tweet

King David in the Psalms

In one of his most poignant psalms, where King David praises the God of Israel for God’s ever pursuing presence (even in Sheol) and God’s act of knitting him together in his mother’s womb, David includes these lines:

Do I not hate those who hate you, O LORD? And do I not loathe those who rise up against you? I hate them with complete hatred; I count them my enemies. (Psalm 139:21-22 ESV)

David seems quite content in hating at least one group of people—God’s enemies. Such hatred seems to be justifiable. If a certain group of people hate God, if they are opposed to God and his ways, then shouldn’t we hate them? Makes sense. The world has always been like this. We are on God’s side (which is of course the right side) and God is on our side, so if anybody rises up against our God, we hate them. No need to ask the question, because you never ask questions when God’s on your side. If we can compile a list of all those who hate God, it seems safe to assume we can hate them.

King Jesus Challenges our Assumptions

The only dilemma we have with our knee-jerk reaction to hate is King Jesus. In typical Jesus fashion, he challenges our assumptions, he challenges the ways things have always been, particularly when he said:

But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. (Luke 6:35 ESV)

At a surface reading of Psalm 139 and Luke 6, it seems like David and Jesus are talking about two different things. David’s hate is rooted in the hate of Yahweh: “Do I not hate those who hate you, O LORD?”

Jesus’ command to love enemies is rooted in the kindness of God the Most High. Sure we could make the case that Jesus is telling us to love our enemies and David is simply saying he hates God’s enemies, but in his plea, David expresses hate for God’s enemies to the point that God’s enemies have become his own personal enemies.

Furthermore, are we to assume when Jesus taught us to love our enemies that this act of love did not include the enemies of God? Certainly not. If this kind of limited enemy love was the teaching of Jesus then we could easily rationalize that our personal enemies are actually God’s enemies, and thus worthy of hate. We could then easily wiggle our way free of Jesus commands altogether. We don’t want to do that. Should we assume Jesus teachings to love our enemies did not include the enemies of God? Click To Tweet

Do We Have a Competing Ethic Here Between Jesus and David?

Does David give us room to hate some people? If we have a flat reading of Scripture, whereby every verse has equal weight and authority and every verse is to be taken as an instructive principle to be followed and applied to our lives, then I would answer, yes, we have two completely different ways to respond to our enemies. However, I am not convinced reading the Bible as a collection of moral principles to be applied to our life is the proper way of incorporating Scripture in the life of faith.

A more sophisticated and Christ-centered reading of Psalm 139 leads us, as followers of Jesus, in a better way forward. Here’s some thoughts:

1. We follow King Jesus, not King David

Jesus is Lord; David is not. Jesus is the son of David who is heir to the throne of David, but Jesus is not exactly a King like David. David ruled by shedding the blood of his enemies; Jesus ruled by allowing his blood to be shed by his enemies. David shows us a way to rule by force; Jesus shows us the way to rule by love. David demonstrates a way to live in God’s kingdom by hating enemies; Jesus demonstrates a way to live in God’s kingdom by loving enemies.

If we have to choose between Jesus and David, we always choose Jesus. David was a man “after God’s own heart,” but he was far from being the picture of moral perfection. He was a man of bloodshed after all and was thus prohibited from building the temple. Jesus did come to sit on the throne of David, which God promised would see no end. But kingship, and indeed our understanding of the Kingdom of God, had to be massively reimagined with the coming of Jesus and the outpouring of the Spirit. David was a man after God’s own heart, but Jesus is the only son of God, near to the Father’s heart. He has made God known to us (John 1:18). If we have to choose between Jesus and David, we always choose Jesus. Click To Tweet

2. The Psalms, more than anything, instruct us in prayer

While some psalms are written to the congregation with instructions, the primary audience of the Psalms is the one true Creator God, the God of Israel. The Psalms teach us to pray. Eugene Peterson writes, “(The Psalms) are not provided to teach us about God but to train us in responding to him. We don’t learn the Psalms until we are praying them.” [1] The Psalms were the prayer book of Jesus and the prayer book of the earliest Christians. We do not study the Psalms for principles to apply to our lives, but we pray the Psalms to be formed in prayer. I practice a tradition of praying the psalm that corresponds with the day of the year. In following this practice, I cycle through the Psalms more than two times in a calendar year. On day 139 of the year (May 18th this year), I was praying Psalm 139 and I was struck by how off-putting verses 21 and 22 were. Psalm 139 is a beautiful psalm that seemed to take a strange turn or course when David begins to give voice to his hate. I did pray the lines about hating God’s enemies, but it felt wrong. We do not study the Psalms for principles, we pray the Psalms to be formed in prayer. Click To Tweet

3. Praying the imprecatory psalms has a specific purpose

The “imprecatory psalms” are any psalms that call for God’s vengeance or violent judgment upon God’s enemies or the enemies of the psalmist. These lines from Psalm 139 about hating God’s enemies fit into that category. These psalms give full range to human emotions without censor. Walter Brueggemann writes,

The Psalms explore the full gamut of human experience from rage to hope. Indeed, it would be very strange if such a robust spirituality lacked such a dimension of vengeance….” [2]

In praying psalms filled with hate, vengeance, and the call for retaliation, we learn that our hate belongs only in one place—the presence of God. We bring our anger and hate and frustration to God regarding other people (i.e. our enemies) and we leave our hate with God. Brueggemann describes this as a cathartic exchange:

Vengeance is not simply a psychological but a theological matter. It must be referred to God. And when vengeance is entrusted to God, the speaker is relatively free from its power. [3]

We express our rage and receive the peace of God in exchange for our hate.

4. Hate evaporates in the light of God’s love

Rabbi Jesus is our leader through the Psalms. He guides us and I imagine him offering guidance to David too. After expressing his hate, David prays, “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my throughs! And see if there be any grievous way in me…(Psalm 139:23-24a).

I imagine Jesus responding to David saying, “Dave we need to talk about this hate business. The Father is actually kind to the ungrateful and the evil. You need to leave this hate with me.” Jesus shows us the way through the Psalms to direct our feelings of rage towards God, so we are freed to love. In this way the only space we find for hate is in the presence of God where it is spoken and where it evaporates in the light of God’s love.

The Kingdom of God leaves no room for hate, only love. Hate belongs to the world that is passing away. Love belongs to the world that has come through life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus. Hate belongs to the world that is passing away. Click To Tweet

[1] Eugene Peterson, Answering God: The Psalms as Tools for Prayer (New York: HarperOne, 1991), 12.
[2] Walter Brueggemann, Praying the Psalms: Engaging Scripture and the Life of the Spirit (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2007), 63.
[3] Brueggemann, 67.

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