I have been reading a lot on prayer lately and ran across this point from Eugene Peterson in his terrific little book on prayer, “Answering God: The Psalms as Tools for Prayer,”
It is easy to be honest before God with our hallelujah’s; it is somewhat more difficult to be honest in our hurts; it is nearly impossible to be honest before God in the dark emotions of our hate…the way of prayer is not to cover our unlovely emotions so that they will appear respectable, but expose them so that they can be enlisted in the work of the kingdom.” p. 100
I think this point is extremely relevant considering what is going on the in the world. With the cruel beheadings overseas with ISIS and now even here at home it is easier than ever to have at best righteous indignation and at worst a searing hatred toward others. Hate is one of the easiest feelings to justify and yet one of the least justifiable feelings we can have. What do we do with those feelings and how does the Bible inform us about how to deal with hate? Maybe there is something in all of that, that can shape us and forum us more and more into the image of Jesus Christ to be consumed by Jesus rather than by intense hatred of others.
In Romans 12:9 Paul tells us,
Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.
Paul is talking about agape love in 12:9 and says that it must be sincere or genuine. He goes on to say that part of having a genuine love is also to know what is falls in the category of evil. Another way to say this is that the flip side of having agape love for others is to also be convicted in what is morally bankrupt, which should be hated (a Greek word used only here in the entire New Testament). Basic Christianity should be able to distinguish between the two…it should be obvious and our reaction to each consistent…to love the right and hate the wrong. Point being, there is such a thing as evil in the world and a person devoted to Christ is justified in hating the presence of those things in the world. We should hate sin and cancer and tsunamis and ebola and murder and abductions and greed and lust and everything else that twists us from the image of God to the image of the world. There are things that happen in the world that are big enough, bad enough, bold enough that they absolutely should result in some sort of visceral reaction on our part.
But in all of this, Paul is not talking about hating people but in hating evil (while the Psalms do talk about hating people we also get verses like Psalm 119:128, 163). Paul even recognized this in his own life back in Romans 7:15 where he even said that there were things in his own life that he hated. That doesn’t mean Paul hates himself but does have a vehement reaction against certain things in his life that he has had to fight against. Are there things in your life that ought not be that you finally get so frustrated with that you might actually say you have a hatred toward those things?
We don’t find a single instance in the New Testament where we are told to hate people and yet hate is a very real feeling and experience. So what do you do with hate and what happens when our prayers turn from hallelujah’s (praise the Lord’s) to prayers about our hurts to prayers about our hates and how much room should we give in our prayers to those types of feelings?
If the psalms are any clue to give us an idea of what is or isn’t acceptable in our prayers it seems there is leeway for us to pray from the very depth and authenticity of our gut-level, raw emotions understanding that God is big enough to handle our imperfections (See the end of Psalm 139). We are reminded by the psalms that there are times that our prayers may be instigated by these sorts of feelings but that God may ultimately allow us to use that as the starting point for a conversation that He intends to take a different route and bring about something unexpected in us and through us and even in spite of us.
So how do you struggle with hate?