Let those who love the Lord hate evil, for he guards the lives of his faithful ones
and delivers them from the hand of the wicked.
Light shines on the righteous and joy on the upright in heart.
Rejoice in the Lord, you who are righteous, and praise his holy name.
Learning How (and What) to Hate
As former U.S Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice once famously said, “We need a common enemy right now to unite us.” It’s true, isn’t it?
It’s not that our country is short on enemies. It’s that different groups and parties and factions can’t agree on who or what is a friend or foe. And I’m not just talking about our enemies “outside the gates,” like China or Russia, North Korea or Iran. I’m talking about all the different enemies right here at home—whether that’s the “left wing” or “right wing” media; McCarthy & McConnell or Biden & Schumer; NRA or LGBTQ; white-skinned evangelicals or brown-skinned immigrants. We are even seeing that play out in our own denominations and churches! Do I need to go on?
Psychologists tell us that strong communities and friendships are forged on one of two things—either common goals or common enemies. But they also tell us that when push comes to shove (and it usually does), having a common enemy beats having a common goal every time! In other words, it’s easier to agree on who we can blame, than to agree on how we can change.
Psalm 97 begins, as so many of the psalms, with praise for an all-powerful, all-knowing God (vs. 1-6). Even the idol worshippers—and the gods they worship—have to acknowledge that “the Lord is Most High over all the earth,” and “exalted far above all gods.” (vs. 7-9).
The songwriter goes on, “Let those who love the Lord hate evil.” (vs. 10) He doesn’t say, “hate those terrible people who worship idols,” or “hate those people who are different from us.” He instructs us to reject evil itself. He provides the worshipers with a common goal—a life of righteousness and joy with God, and a common enemy—the power and presence of evil in the world.
Paul seems to echo the psalmist’s words in his instructions to the church in Rome, “Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.” (Romans 12:9-10).
Sincere love is our common goal, and it requires care and devotion. Evil is our common enemy, and recognizing it requires discernment and humility. God’s love pours into us and out of us, spilling over recklessly into our relationships, our community and our world. But our holy hatred is reserved for that faceless evil that leads idol worshipers to shame; that distorts God’s truth, perverts God’s love and chooses wickedness over righteousness.
In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus confounds every human instinct when he boldly says, “Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.” (Matthew 5:44) That’s not only really hard, Jesus, it sounds impossible! But what if we shared a common goal with Jesus…what if love for God and for our neighbor was our “greatest commandment,” and doing unto others as we would have them do to us was our “Golden Rule?” And what if we also shared and hated a common enemy—evil? What if we realized that we are called to care for the needs of our enemies, and by doing so we can, “overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:17-21)
We are called to love and we are called to hate (Ecclesiastes 3:8). The problem we have is knowing when and how and where to direct it. We need to learn to love God and neighbor, and we need to learn to hate evil. Remember, in Jesus’ eyes, people aren’t the problem…people are the prize. Let’s pursue the common goal of love by using our God-given authority to defeat the power of evil in this world. Let’s lift our hearts in prayer to God…offer our hands in help to someone in need. Recognize that God is in control. And always stay thirsty for Him!