Hate, hate, and more hate! Hate crimes! Hate speech! Hate looks! Hate thoughts! Television commentators, college administrators, columnists, political pundits, and political officials have a lot to say about hatred these days. However, as far as I can discern very little of it is grounded in any serious moral philosophy, much less in a thoughtful application of the original and most radical prohibition against hatred and hate speech, that is, Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount. So, as we continue our thoughts about the Christian way of life let’s think hard and deeply about hatred.
Keep in mind Jesus’ words from Matthew, Chapter 5, as we think about hate and hate speech:
21 “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ 22 But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell…
43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor[i] and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
Who is My Enemy?
In verses 21-22, Jesus deals with what our culture calls hate, hate crimes, and hate speech. Most murderers are motivated by hatred, and Jesus addresses the motive as well as the act. But he makes a surprising move. Rather than saying “Don’t hate your brother or sister” he says “Don’t be angry” with them. We might make a plausible denial of hatred but we can hardly deny that we get angry with others. Jesus severely condemns even mild insults like “raca,” which means something like “idiot!” And he warns that calling someone a “fool” places one in danger of divine judgment.
In verses 43-48, Jesus speaks about hate and love. It is human nature to think we can love some people and hate others. But Jesus teaches that it is never permissible to hate. Who is your enemy? The enemy is here defined relatively. Your enemy is anyone you think wishes you harm or refuses to give what you think you are due. Of course, the person you think wishes you harm or will not give you what you think you deserve may not actually wish you harm or intentionally withhold what you are due. But that makes no difference. Whatever the truth of the matter, Jesus commands that we love our enemies.
What is Hate?
What is hate? Let’s begin where Jesus began, with anger. Anger is an emotional response to insult. In anger we desire revenge for the disrespect others show us. Anger feels a lot like fear, and sometimes it accompanies it. But they are not the same emotion. Fear precedes and anger follows a damaging act. We fear something that threatens to harm us. When we suddenly feel that we might fall from a great height or when a huge dog charges us, teeth bared and fur raised, we become afraid. But when a human being moves to harm us the threat is accompanied by a sense of outrage. Human beings know they ought to respect our dignity.
If we think we have been insulted repeatedly by a person or if we can’t get a past insult out of our minds, anger becomes habitual. Anger has become hatred. In a moment of anger we desire revenge, but hatred, as constant desire for revenge, becomes obsessed with imagining and plotting ways to get even. Hatred is anger that has taken root and come to dominate other motives. In its poisonous imagination it magnifies, distorts, and deepens the insult to the point that taking revenge becomes a sacred duty to oneself…and sometimes a duty to God. For the person consumed by hatred, taking revenge feels like the only way to find release from self-destructive emotions.
Jesus and Your Enemy
But Jesus says to love your enemy. And your enemy is anyone you think may wish you ill. And to wish someone ill is to hate them. “Your enemy” is the one you think hates you. Now don’t miss this: The “enemy” Jesus says to love is precisely the “hater.” Jesus warns us not to insult anyone, not even the one who hates.
But in contemporary culture it has become acceptable to target people who “hate” us and others as long as we think their hatred arises from irrational prejudices. Such “haters” deserve anger and insult from the “good” people, that is, the non-haters. Labeling “haters” with insulting and damning names and pronouncing severe judgments is a duty, rational, holy, and good.
The logic of hatred is subtle indeed! For it was precisely this logic that Jesus’ exposed when he rejected the rule “Love your neighbor but hate your enemy”! The enemies you are duty bound to love are the irrational haters. There is no other kind! And if we rage in anger and hurl insults at that person, we have become “irrational haters” ourselves. The logic of hatred is this: You are like what you hate! Jesus’ answer is this: “Love your enemies.”