The recent events in Charlottesville have put the idea of hate on full display. Putting politics and history aside, which I know for some of you is difficult to do, I think we can all agree that these events have stirred up a national conversation about the word “hate”. The question that I want to know is: can I, as a believer, hate someone? I remember as a kid hating the school bully. I remember the morning of 9/11 seeing the tragedy and hearing the death toll and being filled with rage, and truthfully hate, towards a people group I didn’t know or understand. But was my hate justified, and what does the Bible have to say about hate?
Jesus, while preaching one of the greatest sermons ever heard, said in Matthew 5:44-45, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” This makes for great preaching but hard living. How do I love someone whom I consider to be my enemy?
There is a good chance that you will not be able to change the heart of your enemy, but there is one thing you have control over — your heart towards them. Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, while teaching his children about hate, in his book “10 Conversations You Need To Have With Your Children” says, “If you treat someone lovingly, even if you feel no real compassion for them, even if you feel contempt for them, you are practicing kindness, and you will begin to feel kindness.” The part of the equation that is most likely to change is you, not your enemy. The more that you treat those people in your life who least deserve it with compassion, the more your heart will change towards them.
Hatred does nothing to the person that we hate. It only darkens our soul. A. W. Tozer says in The Pursuit of God, “Hate eats on the soul. To get free of hatred is like being healed of cancer.” We experience so much freedom when we can put our hate aside and love people the way that Jesus loved them and see them as image bearers of God. Not only that, our lives change when we can pray for those who persecute us. Tozer also says, “We cannot pray in love and live in hate and still think we are worshiping God.” Praying for those who persecute us changes our heart and allows us to worship God.
We experience so much freedom when we can put our hate aside and love people the way that Jesus loved them and see them as image bearers of God.
In the parable of the good Samaritan, Jesus expressed to the “expert in the law” that loving those people who were not like him was the true mark of the person who loved God.
I know it is cliché, but if we want to change the world, it begins with love. Jesus lived his life with compassion, and love and calls us to do the same. It starts with our love for God. The overflow of that love for God is a love for others, even people who, on the surface, we may want to hate. We are never more like Christ than when we love the unlovable and show compassion to those, who by all rights, we should hate. When we do that, we convey dignity and worth to those people and we exemplify who Christ is. Rabbi Boteach goes on to say, “Every human being has value, and every human encounter is a fresh chance to let him know it.” Every time we have interactions both good and bad we have an opportunity to be Jesus to them.
I was recently in Walmart, and I watched a lady who was frustrated and in a hurry berate a cashier for not double bagging her groceries. She was incredibly angry and scowled at everything he did. I could see it in his eyes — he felt utterly worthless. As he finished and began scanning my groceries, I felt such compassion for him. Here is a person attempting to do his job the best that he can, and he has been reduced to something less than human. I looked at him and said, “People can be so mean sometimes. Thanks for taking care of me today.” It was just a simple gesture, but his eyes lit up, and I could tell that a part of his dignity was restored. Every person you encounter from the Walmart cashier to the financial planner has value, and every chance we get to interact with them is a chance to remind them that they are created in the image of God, and we need to remind them of that as often as possible.
So, what can you do?