does god hate or not?
Ok, this first real post is inspired by Grendal and Lindsay who had a hot and heavy over this issue. About the hardest thing we can do as we walk around in our earth suits is try to get our arms around God’s perfect, unconditional love when our whole lives are spent experiencing love that is somewhat less than that. And it doesn’t help when our Scriptures seem to give us opposing views. We read in 1John that God is love and perfect love casts out fear; in James we read how our faith is only relevant and alive if we love our neighbor as God loves us; Jesus was all about this unconditional love and acceptance. But then there are passages like Romans 9:13 where Malachi 1:2-3 is paraphrased saying that God loved Jacob but hated Esau. If you do a search on the word “hate” in Scripture, you’ll find other examples of God hating something or someone. I’ll leave the concept of God hating things like unrighteousness to the theologians, but let’s look at the possibility of God hating someone.
First, we need to know that in ancient Hebrew and Aramaic, the word hate could mean what we mean by hate: an active detestation of someone/thing. But hate had another meaning as well. It could simply mean to love less than something/one else or to prefer less. The Torah speaks of a man with two wives, one he loves and one he “hates.” The Law says the man must treat them equally in terms of their firstborn sons, but here, hate doesn’t mean detestation, it simply means not the favorite, not the one most loved. This is the sense in which God loved Jacob and “hated” Esau. But then, in a way, isn’t that the same thing? God isn’t supposed to play favorites is he?
The big question here, then, is why did God prefer Jacob over Esau and how was that preference played out. If you remember the story (Gen 25:27-34), Esau sold his birthright to his brother Jacob for a bowl of soup when he was hungry after hunting. He despised his birthright, counted it as nothing, and this is exactly how he lost his preference. Since his birthright meant nothing, it was taken away and given to Jacob. In ancient Hebrew thought, their relationship with God was concentrated on the here and now–Jews didn’t have a clear conception of the afterlife and left that to God to sort out. They focused on this day, this moment. All God’s blessings and curses were here and now to them: rain on their crops, increase to their livestock, etc. To see good things happening in their lives was to them proof of God’s love and approval. To have bad things happen was to see proof that God “hated” them, or loved them less/disapproved. It was a simple cause and effect. Because Esau lost his birthright, God hated/loved him less than Jacob who got it. But the key here is that Esau was the actor who decided whether the birthright was his or not, and ultimately whether God “hated” him or not.
After David had his fling with Bathsheba, the “sword never left his house,” and his life was a shambles from that time on. But there was never a time when he wasn’t described as God’s beloved. And even though David accepted his difficult circumstances (proof of God’s “hatred”), he understood his part in creating them, knew that he was still God’s beloved, and never left His side. In this sense, even God’s “curses” are blessings, since as James says, those difficult circumstances are the very times that grow us up. God doesn’t “curse” us to punish us, but allows the effects of our actions to play out and help us to make better choices.
Bottom line: we need to understand the language and thought forms of the time when the Scriptures were written in order to understand a concept like this–what we call a Hebraism. God loves us all unconditionally–take it to the bank. If that’s not true, then we can all go home right now. Put a stake in the ground at the point of God’s perfect love and interpret all else in your life (including the Bible) from that point of view. God’s love and acceptance are absolute, but we, through our decisions, can and do create circumstances in our lives that God doesn’t alter. And so from a human point of view, it may look and feel as though God has preferences, but just look up from whatever depths you might find yourself in, and you’ll find Him right there with you. Definitely not hating you.