“For we once ourselves were also once foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving various lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful and hating one another” (Titus 3:3 NKJV).
Atrocities like those recently committed in Paris and Mali continue to outrage and astonish. We ask, “How can anyone treat other people like that?” I recently participated in a conversation in which the point was made that some cultures promote hatred as a virtue. In most nations in which Christianity has had influence children are taught to love and do good to others. But in many other settings they are taught to hate others, whether it be traditional enemies, strangers, or persons of different race or religion. Violent revenge is held up as a duty and an objective of which to be proud.
The apostle Paul lists hatred as one of the environments created by and productive of sin. It is put in the company of ignorance, foolishness, and the selfish pursuit of material pleasures. It is important to note that biblically speaking hatred is not a natural trait of human beings or of any particular race of humans. It is learned and taught behavior – the result of deceitful, wrong, instruction.
An insurance company is running a series of ads with the tag line “. . . that’s what they do.” The idea is that certain characteristics inevitably produce certain predictable behavior. That is the same principle Paul is applying. Godless people hate – that’s what they do. They have not been taught the love of God, the grace of Jesus Christ, or the eternal blessings of loving one’s neighbor as oneself.
The only answer to such evil is to teach and demonstrate its false basis. Hatred is not a virtue – it is never good and does not produce blessing – not to anyone, ever. Hatred often destroys its object. Left unchecked it will always destroy its possessor. Notice Paul’s language, “hateful and hating one another.” Those who hate will themselves become worthy of being hated. That does not justify or excuse our hating them, but it describes their pitiable state.
When atrocities occur we will be offended, outraged, and angered. That is natural. Yet we must not let the wickedness of others transform us into their own likeness. We must never descend to hatred. We may resist and oppose them. We may teach them. But let us not make the mistake of hating them.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, ‘love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:43-44).