I hate 2020.
That was my visceral Facebook post after hearing of the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, shortly followed by the announcement that 200,000 people in this county have died from COVID-19.
Almost immediately, someone who doesn’t share my political views chimed in, “You should not hate.” A bit later, it was followed by a far more well-meaning parishioner who responded, “I thought you said you were saying no to hate.” He clearly has been listening to my sermons and had a legitimate question.
Is it OK to hate? The answer is yes and no.
On the one hand, hate is a very biblical concept. It says in Ecclesiastes there is a time to love and a time to hate. I am not 100 percent sure the time to hate was specifically referencing 2020, but if there was a year to hate, this would be in the running.
St. Paul wrote, “Hate what is evil, cling fast to what is good” (Romans 12:9). The writer of Proverbs said, “The fear of the Lord is hatred of evil. Pride and arrogance and the way of evil and perverted speech I hate” (Proverbs 8:13). And “The righteous hate falsehood, but the wicked act shameful and disgraceful” (Proverbs 13:5). The Psalmist adds, “The Lord loves those who hate evil; he guards the lives of his faithful; he rescues them from the hands of the wicked” (Psalms 97:10).
So the Bible is very clear that hatred of evil — of lying, pride, arrogance, wickedness, rude and twisted speech and language and the debasing of people — is not only acceptable, but that is what we are actually called to do as followers of God.
When we hear of the abuse of children, of separating families for political gain, of acts of violence of any sort, but especially those that are the result of racism, ageism, orientation or bigotry of any sort, of ill treatment of humans, or of deceit and slander, it is OK to hate that action.
It is OK to hate what has happened because of COVID-19 — the deaths, the isolation, the loss of jobs and homes, the dearth of community connection, the division.
Hatred is acceptable when it is associated with action, behavior or even a specific time or era because it is not attached to a specific person but what is being done. That is what it means to hate what is evil and hold fast to what is good. There is no object permanence in our hatred.
God hated death so much that Jesus came to die in part to defeat sin, death and the devil, offering forgiveness and life to all by destroying the powers and forces of evil and offering the gift of forgiveness, life, and love eternally.
Hate becomes problematic and, in fact, sin and evil, when it is attached to the person and not the actions they perpetuate that cause harm to our society. We are told to “love one another because love comes from God and whoever loves comes from God” (1 John 4:7). “But whoever says ‘I love God’ and hates their brother and sisters are liars, for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen cannot love God who they have not seen” (1 John 4:19-20).
In the face of evil, we can hate the evil, but cling fast to the image of God found in the humanity of the person who perpetuates it. We cease to be walking in the light of Christ when we are driven to dehumanize people, see them as “the other” and turn them into an object to despise, rather than a person in need of redemption. That is when we dwell in darkness and hate consumes us. That is when we become hurtful, hate-filled people.
Jesus on the cross certainly hated the actions that led him to that place, but even so, he was able to say, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do” (Luke 23:1).
Of course, we are not Jesus, but in that moment he shows us how we begin to die when we refuse to forgive and hold on to bitterness, wrath and anger. We are not told to tolerate what is wrong, that which destroys our community, but we can’t let our hatred define us or allow us to define others purely by their sinful actions.
MIcah makes it clear how we navigate this narrow road — by “doing justice, loving kindness and walking humbly with our God” (Micah 6:8). Focusing on what is just, loving acts of goodness,and remembering that God is God and we are not is the path forward and will give us the energy to persevere.
Love wins when we focus our actions not on rage toward a person but rather toward healing for the damage they are doing when their hateful actions create chaos and division. Peter tells us that “love covers a multitude of sins” and the writer of Proverbs reminds us that “hatred stirs up strife but love covers all offenses.” We become lesser when we let our rage define us. We grow in grace when we are moved by love.
In other words, be filled with hate toward the evil and let it drive you forward, not by co-opting to the evil by becoming full of rage but rather being filled by God’s love that has conquered sin and death and offers a pathway toward life.
St. Paul in his letter to Galatians gives us the best advice, I think, as we deal with what lies ahead for us, in this “annus horribilis,” as we are weary in heart and soul.
He wrote, “Do not be deceived. God is not mocked, for you reap whatever you sow. If you sow to your own flesh, you will reap corruption from the flesh, but if you sow to the Spirit you will reap eternal life from the Spirit. So do not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at the harvest time if we do not give up, so then, whenever we have the opportunity, let us work for the good of all.” (Gal 6:7-10)
So, it is OK to hate what is happening, but in the meantime, do not grow weary in doing what is right. Because in the end, love wins. And right now, that is what I need to hold onto to live and love for another day.