“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love. By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him.” – The Holy Scriptures
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” -Jesus
God is love. Love your enemies. These two statements lie at the heart of the Christian religion.
So it may come as a surprise that many Christians follow a line of theology leading them to conclude that God hates sinners and that we must love our enemies enough to hate them too.
And no, it’s not Westboro Baptist or some other fringe group of radicals saying these things. It’s well-respected preachers and theologians – men whose books, sermons, and ministries have had an undeniable role in shaping contemporary American Evangelicalism.
Earlier this month I was driving to a friend’s house in Virginia when I hit a dead-end road.
I had missed a turn and instead of telling me to turn around, my GPS just kept giving me more directions. I followed it turn by turn as it led me down gravel back roads surround by woods. I knew that the road I was on didn’t seem right, but the GPS seemed to think that it would eventually bring me to my destination. So I kept following it.
It wasn’t until the directions led me to a dead-end gravel road in the middle of the night that I knew I had gotten way off course, probably several miles back.
We do this with our theology too. Following logical, turn-by-turn ideas until they hit a dead end. When that happens, we have a choice: we can either turn around and retrace our theological steps until we find where we got off course, or we can accept that this dead-end theology must be what God is like, because we followed all the directions and this is where we arrived.
God is love.
I don’t think any Christian would deny this. But some people have followed a theology that results in a god whose actions are anything but love. Rather than recalibrating their theology, they opt to redefine love and preach a God who hates some people.
These should be stark warning signs that our theology has run off-course.
The most notorious example is Mark Driscoll’s infamous “God Hates You” sermon:
Some of you, God hates you. Some of you, God is sick of you. God is frustrated with you. God is wearied by you. God has suffered long enough with you. He doesn’t think you’re cute. He doesn’t think it’s funny. But [understanding that God hates you] is the beginning of freedom.
But Mark Driscoll is a shock-jock preacher known for his bold statements. He’s probably the only preacher who would actually preach from the pulpit that God hates sinners, right?
Yes, I think we need to go the full biblical length and say that God hates unrepentant sinners. If I were to soften it, as we so often do, and say that God hates sin, most of you would immediately translate that to mean: he hates sin but loves the sinner. God hates unrepentant sinners—which means that his infinite wrath hangs over them like a mountain of granite and will in the end fall.
There is a lawful hatred of the sinner; and indeed there must be, since such a hatred is the obverse of the love of God. The love of God hates all that is opposed to God; and sinners–not merely sin–are opposed to God.
This has long been my objection to the theological structure that elevates God’s wrath to such a central point of the Gospel narrative. When the doctrines of God’s hatred toward sinners and God’s unconditional election of a few are held tightly, the meaning of love is too often sacrificed to make the theology “work”.
Matt Chandler’s theology reveals this conflict as well. After hearing him preach that “God delights in you!” I asked him if this was true of the “unelect” in the room. He replied:
“Yes He does but not in the way He loves those that are His. That’s a different type of delight.”
Within this theological framework, “love” can mean creating a human life and then deciding to not elect that life for salvation, thereby willfully abandoning it to an eternity of torture. This is still love, just a different type of “love”.
When love and hate can be used so interchangeably, your theology has effectively rendered the world “love” meaningless.
Wrestling through the implications of this theology last year, I noted that it also negates God’s command to love:
This leads me to wonder, if God only loved a few enough to save them from hell, why should I love my neighbor? Statistically speaking, God probably didn’t love him enough to choose him to be part of God’s family before the foundation of the world, so why should I care about him during these few brief years before he’s sent crackling into hell
People assured me that regardless of how their theology may mangle the meaning of God’s love, I still had to love my neighbor – if for no other reason than because the Bible tells me so.
But this week Desiring God published an article suggesting that my conclusions were perhaps not far from theirs. In a piece titled “Do You Love Your Enemies Enough to Hate Them?“, Jonathan Parnell argues:
In fact, if the love is real, it must include hate.
But that hate, if we are obeying Jesus, means that we hate them not only because of their disgusting injustice, but for what that injustice means for their souls. Piper explains, “There is a kind of hate for the sinner (viewed as morally corrupt and hostile to God) that may coexist with pity and even a desire for his salvation” (222).
Love for our enemies means, fundamentally, that we hate our enemies for wholeheartedly joining in the evil that will ultimately cause their damnation.
It seems that what’s being advocated here is an alternative to the infamous “love the sinner / hate the sin” cliche.
Instead, we are to “love the sinner / hate the sinner”.
This is the logical conclusion of a religion that preaches “God hates you”. Eventually we are told to hate our enemies too.
This should be the dead end road that tells us we’ve missed a turn somewhere along the way. If God commands us to love our enemies, we should question any theological assertion that suggests God hates God’s enemies. But that questioning would strike at the very heart of this new-Puritan obsession with God’s wrath. So instead they redefine “love” to include “hate” – protecting the foundation of their theological systems but destroying the nature of love and the character of God in the process.
When I got to that dead-end road in the middle of the night, I knew it was not my friend’s house. Though I’d never been there before, I knew what his home should look like – and it wasn’t this.
We have an idea of what God is like – God is revealing Godself in the earth and the sky and the Scriptures and the law written in our hearts. So when our theology leads us to conclusions that twist God’s love into hate, we shouldn’t just shrug it off as the pride and confusion of our sinful hearts.
It’s possible to follow all the instructions and still wind up at the wrong destination. Don’t try to talk yourself into accepting that wrong is right, that evil is good, that hate is love. Just turn around and retrace your steps back to Jesus.
[ image: Emil Varga ]
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