“Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good” (Rom 12:9).
God’s grace conforms our hearts to his. We usually think about this divine work within ourselves as transforming us to love what God loves, in the way that God loves, and for the reasons that God loves. Yet there is another side to this process—coming to hate what God hates.
Corresponding to each and every love, there is and indeed must be an attendant hate, a hate of that which can damage and destroy the beloved. Parents hate the sickness that ails their children, and grown children hate the Alzheimer’s disease that afflicts their parents, with a just and loving hatred. In fact, without this corresponding hatred love cannot be genuine love. It can be nothing more than fleeting sentimentality and false mercy, self-absorbed and empty of real concern for the beloved.
What, then, does God hate? What wreaks the most grievous damage and destruction upon his creatures? Not what harms the body, but the soul (Matt 10:26-28). He hates sin. And those who are close to his heart likewise detest such spiritual evil. As Scripture attests, “The Lord loves those who hate evil” (Ps. 97:10).
This is a useful lens through which to view the scandals that have recently come to light. There are those who harmed the most trusting and vulnerable in the Church, and there are those who covered for them. The horror and evil of their acts can seem overwhelming, and in this we can only trust Christ, the just judge. There are also those who, without manifesting malice, enabled evil by failing to act—out of half-willed ignorance, or wishful thinking, or trust in psychological solutions to spiritual problems, or simply an inability to comprehend and confront the evil in their midst. This last group is the largest. In them we can perhaps discern the lack of a holy hatred of sin which undermined their love for those in their care. Because they did not hate evil as it should be hated, they compromised with it and were unable to hold fast to what is good. Their reluctance to hate evil prevented their love from being genuine.
The first book of Samuel provides an apt scriptural image. Saul, the King of Israel, received a command from the Lord: “Thus says the Lord of hosts: I will punish what Amalek did to the Israelites when he barred their way as they came up from Egypt. Go, now, attack Amalek, and put under the ban everything he has. Do not spare him.” (1 Sam. 15:2-3) The nation of Amalek, the first to attack Israel after the Exodus from Egypt, personified the world’s violent rejection of the Divine plan and opposition to God’s chosen people. Thus, the Lord promised that he would completely blot out the memory of Amalek from under the heavens in the triumphal fulfilment of the his will (Ex. 17:14). To accomplish this, the Lord commanded Saul to put under the ban—destroy without exception—everything Amalekite.
But, as we know, Saul failed. Instead of hating what personified evil, as God instructed, he spared it. He compromised with Amalek, taking the king alive and keeping what was valuable. He compromised with God’s command, only half fulfilling God’s will. Therefore, the Lord rejected him as king of Israel and gave the kingship to David, who would faithfully write that “zeal for your house consumes me” (Ps 69:9, Jn 2:17). In the end, Saul was killed by an Amalekite, one whom, had the king observed the ban, would not have existed.
There can be no compromising with evil, no compromising in following God’s command. Let us pray that he will make our hearts like his, loving what he loves and hating what he hates, that our love might be genuine. Let us pray that he will give us shepherds who will not only tenderly care for the sheep, but also relentlessly drive off the wolves.
Image: John Martin, The Destruction Of Sodom And Gomorrah