I rarely use the verb “hate” when speaking about a person because I was taught that hating people is wrong. Instead, I choose words that basically mean the same thing: I “despise” or “can’t stand” him or her. Or I use words that are a bit softer than the word hate: I “dislike” or “don’t care” for the person who rubs me the wrong way. Sometimes I say as Christians often do, that I hate the behavior rather than the person; hate the sin, love the sinner.
The night after the presidential election, I had a dream – a nightmare really – that The Apprentice star was having a victory parade with thousands of people cheering. I yelled out, “I hate him!” My sleeping mind was honest. Over the many months of the campaign, I was so repulsed by the Nightmare’s words that I couldn’t stand to watch him. I still can’t bear to listen to him or see his face for more than a few seconds. I hold his dishonesty, self-centeredness, and meanness in contempt. I despise his self-aggrandizement and his ugliness towards anyone who doesn’t praise him.
But I knew I had to put my anger to bed and accept the new reality, no matter how abhorrent it is to me. Anger is a dangerous emotion that fuels hate and makes it so you can’t see straight. Anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires (James 1:20, NIV). Even though my anger at bad behavior is justified, I can’t nurse it. Instead, I am called to love and defend the people who are hurt by his anti-gospel message. I put my hope in the gospel, not politics.
The man who starred in my nightmare is not a personal enemy to me but he is an enemy of goodness. He is an enemy of honesty and integrity, justice and mercy for the oppressed, freedom of speech, and the religious freedom of non-Christians. He bullies and persecutes his enemies. I can hate what he does and says but I must have some measure of compassion for him.
How do I love someone who is wicked, especially when I know that God doesn’t like wickedness either? Proverbs says that God hates a perverse man (3:32), a false witness who pours out lies (6:19), a heart that devises wicked schemes (6:18), and all of the proud of heart (16:5). Jesus condemned greed, self-indulgence, pride and hypocrisy. How am I to love a sinner if I can’t see something lovable in him? How do I learn to see the human soul apart from his behavior?
Love Your Enemies
Jesus said that we should love our neighbors and our enemies (Matthew 5:43-45). He even said to pray for those who persecute you. After all, anyone can love people who are easy to love – people who share their interests and beliefs. When Jesus said that we should love our enemies, he did not explain how to do it. Instead, he pointed straight to God. He reminded us that God is kind to both the righteous and the wicked. Loving your enemies is how you show the world that you belong to God. He said that if you don’t forgive others, God will not forgive you (Matthew 6:15).
Jesus illustrated the concept of redeeming, unconditional love in The Parable of the Lost (Prodigal) Son. The younger son ran off and squandered everything his father gave him, while the older son worked hard and obeyed his father. When the younger son finally came to his senses, he returned to his father’s home, humbled and ready to confess his sins. His father welcomed him with compassion. He was joyful because his lost son came home.
The prophet Jonah knew that God is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love (Jonah 4:2). Jonah did not want to deliver God’s message to the wicked people of Nineveh. It made him angry that God was merciful. But God said, shouldn’t I have concern for them? Even the wicked are God’s children and when they repent, he shows them mercy.
Learning from Dr. King
I admire the wisdom, courage, and grace of Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., a man who had every reason to hate white people. King fought to end racial segregation and other forms of racial inequality. He was beaten and jailed for his nonviolent resistance to social injustice. Yet he chose to love his enemies. He understood the destructive power of hate. Hate begets hate. If you respond to hate with hate, it does nothing but intensify the level of evil in the universe. He said that at some point, you must have the moral sense to break the chain of hate.
Even when I do my best to put aside anger at his wickedness, I do not feel any warmth or affection for my moral enemy. I can’t empathize with him because I don’t understand or share his feelings. Dr. King explained that God does not expect us to love our enemies in the same way we love our friends. It would be ridiculous to expect people to love their oppressors in an affectionate way.
The kind of love we should have for our enemies is agape. Agape is not philia, brotherly love. It is the highest form of love – an unconditional love that transcends circumstances. Dr. King described agape as an understanding, redeeming love motivated by good will for all men. It is not motivated by any quality of its object. In other words, it does not distinguish between worthy and unworthy people. Agape love does not seek its own good but the good of its neighbor. King described this kind of love as “disinterested” in the sense that you are not loving the person because it benefits you to love them. You love them for their own sake.
Dr. King said that agape originates from the need of the other person – “his need for belonging to the best in the human family.” We are all interrelated as human beings – blacks, whites, Christians, Muslims, atheists, gay, straight, etc. No matter how bad we are, we are never completely depraved. Dr. King said that there is something in our nature that responds to goodness. Just as an evil person like Hitler can appeal to the element of evil in us, someone like Jesus or Gandhi can appeal to the element of good in us.
Pitying My Enemy’s Neediness
I pity my enemy, the gloating man of my nightmare. Pity may seem like a strange emotion to feel for a man who has wealth, power and worldly success. After all, pity is compassion for the suffering or misfortune of others. Though he would hardly be called unfortunate in material terms, he lacks something more precious than gold: love. I think the man who lives in luxury suffers from a lack of self-esteem. You can see it in the way the grand tweeter so quickly tears down anyone who wounds his pride. Perhaps denigrating other people is the only way he can feel good about himself. Perhaps he spends so much time talking about how great he is because inside he really does not believe that he is lovable.
I pity a man who does not love his neighbor – immigrants and refugees. I pity the man who does not have the love for others that is evidenced by fruit of the Spirit: peace, joy, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control. I pity a man who does not know how to forgive. Without love, he is nothing but a resounding gong.
And I know that the odds of redemption are stacked against him. Yes, he won the election. Yes, he reached the pinnacle of power in the United States government. Yes, he lives in luxury. Yes, millions of people worship him. But as Jesus said, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God (Matthew 19:24). You can’t worship both God and money. It is really hard for someone who worships wealth and material possessions to build his treasures in heaven.
I pity a man who is afraid to look too closely at himself, to engage in honest introspection, because he is missing the opportunity to know God. He is fighting a battle he cannot win unless he surrenders his distorted sense of self. As C.S. Lewis wrote in Mere Christianity,
The point is, He wants you to know Him: wants to give you Himself. And He and you are two things of such a kind that if you really get into any kind of touch with Him you will, in fact, be humble – delightedly humble, feeling the infinite relief of having for once got rid of all the silly nonsense about your own dignity which has made you restless and unhappy all your life. He is trying to make you humble in order to make this moment possible: trying to take off a lot of silly, ugly, fancy-dress in which we have all got ourselves up and are strutting about like the little idiots we are.
Will my enemy ever realize that the key to becoming the greatest in the human family is humility? That as long as you strut about like a silly idiot trying to prove your worthiness to the world, you will never know God? I am skeptical but have to keep in mind that if even a tiny corner of his heart is open to God’s goodness, my enemy is redeemable.
Guarding My Heart from Hate
Timothy wrote about the terrible times of the last days. The people he describes sound just like my enemy. So while I need to see him as God does, as a lost son in need of God’s redeeming love and mercy, I also have to guard my own heart against his wickedness. I also have to guard my heart against the destructive power of anger.
But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people. – 2 Timothy 3:1-5 (NIV)
Learning to love my enemy with a disinterested, redeeming love is going to be hard. But my heart belongs to Jesus and hatred of anyone, no matter how I feel about their behavior, does not sit well in my heart. Above all else, I must guard my heart because everything I do flows from it (Proverbs 4:23).