Sunday of the Passion.18 “Holy Hatred” John 12:20-43
It has long been a goal of mine—not a major goal, really, more of a “side project, work on it when you have some spare time,” kind of thing—to restore hate to an honored place among the Christian virtues. You know, like that beloved bible passage says: “Faith, love, hope (and hate!) these four abide; and while hate isn’t exactly the greatest of them, by any means, oh; it’s up there, baby” (as the NIV beautifully translates St. Paul’s words from Matthew 29:53). I haven’t gotten very far with the project, to be perfectly honest with you. Kind of like drag racing with a Prius. You don’t win a lot. But I am undeterred. The sheer unlikeliness of the thing ever catching on with the unwashed masses is part of the appeal, for me…
OK, I’m kidding about the Matt. 29:53 quote from St. Paul. You know there’s only 28 chapters in Matthew (Matt. 29:53 is a code phrase for me and my friends for verses people think/wish were in the bible but aren’t. If you say it with shock and awe that the other person doesn’t know this famous verse, you’d be surprised what you can get away with! And I tipped you because St. Paul didn’t write and doesn’t appear in Matthew’s Gospel as you also know).
But I’m not joking about trying to restore hate to a place among the Christian virtues. And I’m not kidding that my fun quote does, in fact, accurately sum up many (somewhat shocking!) passages of Holy Scriptures, not the least being the words of our Lord from our Gospel today: “He who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” Hate as a Christian virtue? Really, Jesus? Well, consider this one, from my favorite Psalm, 139: “Oh, that You would slay the wicked, O God! Depart from me, therefore, you bloodthirsty men. For they speak against You wickedly; Your enemies take Your Name in vain. Do I not hate them, O Lord who hate You? And do I not loathe those who rise up against You? I hate them with perfect hatred(!); I count them my enemies. Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my anxieties; and see if there be any wicked way in me; and lead me in the way everlasting.”
What a great Psalm. The first parts are also awesome: about how even in hell God will find us and make the darkness light about us; how all our days are fashioned, written for us in His Book, before there were any of them, so we can see how it’s all going to turn out (well!). The Bible is so awesome. So much more athletic than you’d expect! So much more encouraging! And maybe the most crucial verse of all on hate as a family value: in Genesis 3, the original Gospel promise is phrased like this, when God says it is the Serpent’s fault and God Himself will fix this sin and death thing through a Son of Eve and God tells the Devil that He will put “enmity (serious hate!) between you and the woman, between your seed and her Seed; He shall bash your head, and you shall bruise His heel…”
Now, I think you can see a large part of the difficulty in my side project of restoring hate to its rightful place among the Christian virtues: the kind of hate that God, David, and I are so enamored of is not at all the kind of emotion that we usually think of when the word “hate” is used among us in our world. Not the same sort of thing at all! Utterly different, even though both are intense oppositional dispositions, such that “hate” really is an appropriate word for both states. I differentiate them by using David’s language: the hate I’m after is “perfect hatred” (Holy Hatred, Batman!). An entirely different, higher, holier, nobler thing than the sort of nonsense “hate groups” and “hateful Christians” foster in our world (which, just to be clear: I also hate with a perfect hatred (you see what I did there 🙂
But, just because the hate that people have for those of different cultures and ethnicities, or for people who are more accomplished and more decent than they are, or for those who point out the serious errors in their messed-up thinking is a bad thing, doesn’t mean that all hate is bad. God hates the devil and so do we. God hates sinners and so do we (which involves a fair bit of hating on ourselves!). By the way: the verse “God hates sin but loves the sinner” is pure Matt. 29:53! There is no such verse anywhere, in the Bible. In fact, Ps. 5:5 says plainly “You are not a God who takes pleasure in wickedness… You hate all workers of iniquity”. Not just the iniquity, but the workers thereof! The sinners themselves God hates! Ps. 7:11 (good number) says “God is angry with the wicked every day”! God hates the idolaters along with their idolatry because the two cannot really be separated. God doesn’t love sinners as sinners: God has mercy on sinners, and loves what He makes of us in Jesus by His dying and rising—holy, righteous saints.
St. Paul asks the Corinthians (with annoyance!) “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the Kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the Kingdom of God—and such were some of you! But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the Name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God” (I Cor. 6:9-11). A real bible passage, straight-up translation!
Only being washed in Holy Baptism, sanctified, justified by Gospel Word and Sacraments through faith in Christ alone does God love us. So David rightly boasts that he hates those who hate God and His Christ! He loathes those who rise up against Him! He hates them with perfect hatred! And David trembles because he knows that is some of us all the time, and all of us some of the time, and has been him too many times to happily admit! So, he begs God to search him, know his heart, try him, and see if there be any wicked way (still!) in me; and if there is: get it the hell out! Create a new, right, and free Spirit in me. Please! And lead me in the Way everlasting…(!)
On the way to the cross, Jesus proclaims that unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone, fruitless. Anyone who loves his life will lose it; but he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Holy hatred turns out not to be just one virtue among many in the Christian life—like faith, hope, or love: it turns out to be the gateway drug, the launching pad to a new life in, with, and for Christ Jesus! David didn’t look at sin, death, and hell (and those pushing that!) and go: “Well, bless their hearts! They mean well!” No. He hated that and how he’d aided and abetted it. Isn’t it a relief to find it’s OK to hate your life, a little bit?
Maybe my side-project of putting David’s perfect hatred more front and center is kinda more central to proclaiming the Gospel than many may be comfortable admitting. That’s OK. It’s an advanced move; and best to practice on yourself, first! Because who doesn’t hate our life in this corrupt world and the ways we too often add to the badness? Right? Right! Well… for you: Jesus promises Peace, surpassing understanding, guarding your heart and mind in Christ Jesus. Amen.