A Place to Hate

Deeper Communion

June 14, 2024 | Opinion | Volume 28 Issue 8
Ryan Dueck, Cindy Wallace, Justin Sun, Anika Reynar |

Hate – Ryan Dueck

“My cellmate said a wild thing the other day; he told me that the word ‘hate’ is in the Bible, somewhere in the Old Testament. I told him he was full of s---, that God doesn’t hate, he only loves.”


This was the first comment that emerged around the circle at the jail recently when I opened the space up for anyone to share what was on their mind.


How to respond? “Well,” I said, “your cellmate is right, the word ‘hate’ is in the Bible.” (Approximately 200 times, depending on the translation). “It’s often even used in connection with God.”


He looked at me suspiciously before exhaling through his teeth. “Really? Man, that’s f---ed up!”


The conversation that followed was lively. My interlocutor was quite insistent that God wasn’t the sort of being that was allowed to hate. God’s job was to love, and hate was decidedly beneath him.


I could understand his desire for the separation. Hate, after all, is the sort of thing that lands people in prisons. He wanted God to be free of all moral contaminants. He needed things to stay in their proper place.


I tried to make the distinction between hating people and hating behaviours. “God doesn’t hate people,” I said, “only the things they do that either harm others, thwart the flourishing they were made for or render worship in improper and destructive directions.”


He nodded warily. I could tell he was either getting bored or not really buying it. In his world, God and hate still didn’t belong together.


I tried a different approach. “Well, you’re a dad, right? What if your kid was getting mixed up in all kinds of things you knew were going to lead them down a terrible path? You wouldn’t hate your kid, but wouldn’t you hate what they were doing, or some of the things that were influencing them? Would not this hatred be an expression of your love for them and your desire for their best?”


This seemed to resonate a bit more. At least I thought it did. He grew quieter. Nodded his head. “Yeah, I guess.” He grinned. “But I still don’t like it.”


I thought back to a few weeks prior. This guy had shared with the group that he had recently been close to ending it all. He was off his head on drugs, shotgun loaded, barrel in his mouth, finger on the trigger. His phone rang. His young son was on the other end of the line. The son he had been missing terribly. The son he had felt he had failed. The son who ended up saving his life.


This was, we all agreed, a “God moment.” A moment where God reached into the pain and sorrow and helplessness and rage of a human life and said, “Let’s try this again, shall we?”


As he told this story, I remember feeling a deep sadness. But not just sadness; also anger. It enraged me that human lives can be so riven with pain. It seemed so unfair, so arbitrary, so common. The writer of Psalm 139 claimed to hate the enemies of God with “perfect hatred.” I can’t claim that there’s anything “perfect” about what goes through my mind when I hear awful stories like the one above, but hatred doesn’t seem like too strong a word.


I hate the things that make life so hard for so many. I hate the things within us that make us our own worst enemies. I hate the enemy that comes to steal, kill and destroy. I hate it that so many people feel so small and useless, so forgotten and disdained.


I believe God is love. This is one of the deepest truths of the cosmos. It is what I have banked my life on. It is the only source of my hope.


I also believe this love is a purifying and clarifying agent. It does not and will not tolerate that which is false and destructive and degrading and dehumanizing. Even though I do not believe that there is anything that God cannot forgive, there are some things that I am very glad that God hates. Perfectly.


Ryan Dueck serves as pastor at Lethbridge Mennonite Church in Lethbridge, Alberta, and as chaplain at Lethbridge Correctional Centre one day per week.


Risk – Cindy Wallace

Recently I came upon a scene of risky play involving bungee cords and a lamp post. I shouted for my child to stop, but they fell and started to cry.


I shifted to comfort mode: “Are you hurt or scared or both?” I asked.


“I’m sad,” my child said. “Your voice was so angry.”


I don’t use an angry voice with my children often. When I do, it’s because I need them to listen. I hate to see my children get hurt or hurt each other.


Is this what God’s hatred is like?


Last month I wrote, “the world’s burning core is love.” I said “burning” because I understand this love as a purifying love. I think it is both more radically accepting and also more rigorously demanding than most of us can fathom.


To know myself beloved of God is to know that God hates when any of us hurts another. It is to be emboldened by the Spirit not to participate in harming any of God’s children.


Participation in God’s love can be painful, burning away complacency and excess. It demands that we care about things more easily ignored. It asks us to choose risky discipleship over risk management, as individuals and institutions.


God’s love burns just as strong for my neighbour—down the street or in a Colombian village destroyed by a Canadian mining company—as it does for me. So sometimes God has to use an angry voice. And so do I. 


Cindy Wallace, professor of English at St. Thomas More College at the University of Saskatchewan


Mirror – Justin Sun

I am deeply fascinated by what people assert God is or isn’t, can or cannot be, or does or does not do. After all, I think these conversations cut to the heart of God’s very character and, I would argue, ours.


So often in these discussions, I think we find our words and thoughts mirror back to us something about ourselves and our contexts.


In this case, I love that Ryan and Cindy—both parents—make the connection to parenting.


I guess, when discussing God’s capacity to hate, a beginning point is found when life, in all its risk, confronts us with the reality that the “objects” of our love are free. (Is this parenthood in a nutshell? I would not know.)


For me, a question coming out of this is: What is the material difference between hating a person and hating their behaviour? I do believe and want to insist that people are more than any behaviours, so I echo Ryan here to a point. At the same time, are the sum of behaviours not indicative of who a person is? If God—the noted Esau-hater (Romans 9:13)—hates harmful behaviours, at what point does that hate bleed into people? 


Justin Sun, youth pastor at Peace Mennonite Church, Richmond, B.C.


Clarification – Anika Reynar

Reading Ryan’s reflection, I recall Romans 12:9 : “Let love be genuine; hate what is evil; hold fast to what is good.” In this passage, hate and embrace are held together. Genuine love, we’re told, includes both, needs both.


Ryan’s story reminds me that hate is powerful. On one hand, hate drives actions and structures that destroy life. On the other hand, hate can function as a “clarifying agent,” summoning loud protest of death-dealing systems. The difference between these forms of hate is a matter of discernment. For hate to be clarifying, it needs to be held together with forms of embrace that continuously and relentlessly turn away from death and toward life. I see this embrace beginning in the life of Jesus. God’s love embodied. Inviting us, over and over, to turn from death to life. To try again.


I keep thinking about the gun. I hate that humans have built a world where a death-dealing weapon becomes a way out of death-dealing systems. And yet, even in this space, there is embrace, and reminders to “hold fast to what is good.” This is a call to engaged love, anchored in embrace and motivated by a refusal of the systems that destroy life. 


Anika Reynar recently graduated from Yale University with degrees in religion and environmental management.

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