Is it Good to Hate? (Romans 12.9)

Is it good to hate? If understood and applied properly, it is absolutely good to hate. In fact, it is demanded of all believers! An integral part of loving is a healthy hate for all that is evil. “Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil, cling to what is good” (Romans 12.9).

SINCERE LOVE REQUIRES HATING WHAT IS EVIL. The first thing to note is this Scripture implies that anyone who does not hate what is evil and cling to what is good cannot truly or sincerely love. Conversely, one cannot actually or fully love unless he both hates what is evil and clings to what is good. But why do we have to hate anything in order to love?

To begin, we know that “God is love” (1 John 4.7). The Apostle John is not saying that God is like love or filled with love, or that God has love in him. It is much more than any of those—God is love. At the core of Father God’s very nature is love. First and for all eternity, he loves his only begotten Son, Jesus Christ (John 17.24); and then, at the dawn of time, this fountain of love brimmed over into Creation and we humans, of course, are the primary beneficiary of this love (Colossians 1.15—20).

Now, it is inherently true that one cannot choose to do a certain thing and actually do it unless he first knows what that thing is. Applied to the issue at hand, this means we cannot choose to actually love something or someone without first knowing what love is. Given that God is love, we cannot know love without knowing God. Indeed, to know love is to know God—to express love is to express God.

From this, we can extrapolate the following hypothesis—sincere or pure love cannot in any way contradict what we know to be God’s nature, attributes, thoughts or desires. Romans 12.9 holds one cannot sincerely love unless he both hates what is evil and clings to or loves what is good, so we need to ascertain if God indeed both hates what is evil and loves what is good.

Psalm 45 is an illustrious prophecy of Messiah the King and quoted in Hebrews:

“Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever, and righteousness will be the scepter of your kingdom. You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has set you above your companions by anointing you with the oil of joy” (Hebrews 1.8).

Knowing that this Scripture is talking about Christ and that Christ is one with the Father (John 1.1), we can deduce that God loves righteousness (doing God’s will, i.e., what is good) and hates wickedness (doing what is evil). Also, Psalm 97.10 says “those who love the LORD hate evil.”

Scripture teaches that God is love and he hates what is evil and loves what is good. The logical extension of these principles affirms the truth of the Romans 12.9 exhortation that we, too, must hate what is evil and cling to what is good if we want to express the pure love of God.

TO HATE WHAT IS EVIL. What exactly does it mean for us to hate what is evil? Perhaps it is best to start by emphasizing two things it is not.

First, hating what is evil does not include hating men. We may hate what a person does, but we must not hate the person who does it. The Lord Jesus exhorted his disciples to love all men, even those who hated them (Luke 6.27—28). Our Christlike example is to be kind to the ungrateful and wicked, and never repay hatred with hatred. We are to be merciful to sinners, just as our Father is merciful to us (Luke 6.35—36). If we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us (1 John 4.12).

Secondly, while it is true that Christians are to have a strong dislike or hatred for evil, we are also drawn to have a deep, abiding love for God and what is good. Therefore, a healthy hatred of all that is evil must never be characterized by a malicious attitude. Accordingly, we should guard against our hatred for evil ever playing any part in discord, jealousy, fits of rage, dissensions or factions; nor should it ever support the sin of selfish ambition. If any of these has occurred, then our hatred has indeed become a sinful hatred of the flesh (Galatians 5.20) and is, therefore, incompatible with the Christlike spirit of hating what is evil.

In short, to hate what is evil is to despise what God despises, to abhor what he abhors. All sin is hated by God. Because he is holy and pure and altogether apart from sin in his nature and person, God’s total opposition and aversion to sin is quite simply required for him to remain pure. He takes no pleasure in hating the evil of sin, it is simply “not him”. As we love God and gain understanding from him, then we too will hate sin as he does (Psalm 97.10; Psalm 119.104), The ONLY pleasure we should take in hating sin or evil, however, is that of pleasing God.

We should also hate the sphere of darkness in which the unbeliever lives and operates (John 3.19—20; 1 John 2.11). This sphere of darkness is the product of Satan’s hand and his dominion (2 Corinthians 4.4). Any person who lives in this darkness, however, is not necessarily doomed to its shadows forever—one can be rescued from it and brought into the light (Ephesians 5.8).

Finally, believers in Christ should also despise Satan himself and his demons. Satan is the author of all sin and evil, he who embodies what is not of God. Unlike those who do not yet believe and can be rescued from darkness, there is no hope of redemption for Satan and his demons—they have already been judged and merely await sentencing. Their sole purpose is to lure us away from God (1 Peter 5.8). Certainly God hates “the abomination that causes desolation” (Daniel 12.11). Simply put, to love God is to hate Satan.

WHY WE HATE WHAT IS EVIL. In what way will hating what is evil benefit us? Thankfully, God provides us with some understanding of the practical benefits of hating what is evil.

First, to hate what is evil helps us cling to what is good. These two precepts are not mere tautology, but were created to act in synergy. To hate the darkness helps us see, desire and cling to the light. To love and abide in the light helps us see and avoid the darkness (John 3.20—21). But in a culture that increasingly believes the difference between good and evil is not a spiritual reality but an intellectual distinction that is social and psychological in nature, it would be hard to overemphasize our need to hate what is evil in order to maintain a balanced perspective between these two precepts.

There is always a risk that love will weaken the condemnation of what is wrong and evil, especially for those who do not believe these are in fact spiritual concepts. And so, in a sincere desire (if not zeal) to love and do good, modern liberality appears to have lost sight of the fact that evil stands in direct contravention to love and good. Thus, for example, it is not uncommon for today’s convicted criminal to be pitied as much as blamed, and our prison system has slowly become as much or more about rehabilitation than punishment. It’s not that I’m against educating and socially elevating the wrong-doers of society, quite the contrary, as long as that agenda does not supersede the function of punishment. Indeed, accepting and enduring the punishment handed down for crimes committed is the first step toward actual rehabilitation.

A related threat to the delicate balance between hating what is evil and clinging to what is good stems from the now well-publicized misappropriations of this exhortation “in the name of Christ”—abominations such as the Inquisition, the Salem witch trials, the Ku Klux Clan, and the neo-Nazi skinhead movement, to name a few. These distortions of the command to hate what is evil, coupled with media misinformation and/or exaggeration about them, have led to expanding persecution for anyone who dares to publicly express views consistent with the scriptural command to hate evil. To “hate” anything, even evil things, is becoming taboo in today’s world and is often frowned upon, if not ridiculed. “All hate is wrong” has become the insidious battle cry of an increasingly spiritless culture—all in the name of love, of course.

As a result, when presented with an opportunity to express our hate of evil things, we Christians often cower in silence or take the path of least resistance with half-mumbled euphemisms. While it is true that few, if any, Christians are called to actively seek out persecution for their faith—all Christians are called to embrace such persecution when it presents itself, and not just for God’s glory in this case, but for our own sake, as well. By not expressing our views about hating evil, the delicate balance between the two precepts of this exhortation is disrupted and our ability to cling to what is good is proportionately weakened. To lovingly express our views about hating what is evil is more challenging than ever today, but speak we must.

Another reason to express our specific views about hating evil is that it often provides us an opportunity to witness our faith in general. If handled properly, the very fact that all “hate speak” is becoming taboo can be creatively turned on its head and used as a conversation starter that naturally leads to discussing God and faith. There is nothing wrong with being “crafty” as long as our motives are good.

CONCLUSION. In closing, please keep in mind that the primary purpose of this writing is to emphasize the more difficult teaching that believers are actually required to hate all that is evil. As discussed, we are also required to cling to all that is good. In practice, by word or deed, life will present many more opportunities for us to cling to something good than hate something evil, all the more reason to keep reminding ourselves of the need to hate evil, as well.

As always, Jesus’ perfect obedience to the Word of God provides us with an enduring example of how this command can be lived out. As he entered Jerusalem for what he knew was the last time and with the sober knowledge of why he came, traveling across a bed of cloaks and palm branches spread in homage to the path he followed and hearing the hails of praise from those attending his triumphal entry, one could easily imagine that Jesus would have preferred to cling to what good there was in this humble honor bestowed upon him. But that is not what life presented to him.

Upon entering his Father’s house of worship, he was assaulted by the stench of greed oozing from the inflated prices of the money changers and those selling sacrificial animals—abusing many worshipers who came with poor means and a pure heart to worship his Father. Jesus hated the evil he saw and expressed his indignation by overturning tables and verbally exposing their iniquities to all who could hear! Soon after, however, Jesus let go of his anger and embraced the opportunity to heal the blind and the lame that came to him there in the temple. By doing so, Jesus heaped loving coals upon the exposed greed by clinging to the good of caring for those in need (Matthew 21.12—17).

Jesus’ loathing of evil was undeniable and absolute, and equally intense and pure was his clinging to that which is good. In his obedience to both commands and the harmony that blossoms between them, Jesus makes God known to us, he makes love known to us—he loves us perfectly, showing us how to love perfectly.

© 2014 by Patrick Lloyd—the WORD runs deep publishing  (TWRD Short # 024)