But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you. – Matthew 5:44
Do not I hate them, O Lord, that hate thee? and am not I grieved with those that rise up against thee? I hate them with perfect hatred: I count them mine enemies. – Psalm 139:21-22
Christians have exceedingly great difficulties in harmonizing these verses. In “Hate the Sin and Hate the Sinner,” I opposed the maudlin phrase “hate the sin and love the sinner” and the absurdities of “unconditional love,” but I did not at that point clearly formulate how these verses cohere. In fact, I presupposed a particular attempt at harmonization which, as we will see below (#7), fails to ground the biblical data.
And it is not simply these particular verses which need to be reconciled, but whole classes. It is not as if the tomes of biblical language exhorting love need to be harmonized with some small outlier verse mentioning hatred in an obscure narrative. Rather, the psalms are filled with prayers for suffering and destruction to be brought upon the wicked (e.g. Psalm 6:10; 28:4-5; 35:4-8; 40:14-15; 55:9, 15, 58:6-8; 69:22-28; 79:6-7, 10, 12; 83:13-18; 104:35; 109:6-20, 29; 119:78; 137:7-9; 140:9-11; 143:12), even expressing some sort of goodness or satisfaction in the justice which the wicked suffer (e.g. Psalm 1:4-5; 3:7-8; 5:4-6; 7:14-16; 9:3-5, 15-17; 25:3; 55:19, 23; 58:9-11; 92:8-11; 94:2, 23; 107:40; 118:7; 119:118-119; 125:5). Few in our modern church can see any harmony between these two classes of texts. How can we simultaneously affirm both an injunction to prayerfully bless our violent persecutors and an example of pleading that our persecutors’ wives be made widows and their children orphans (Ps. 109:9)?
Precisely because these texts are so glaring and vivid, a number of explanations have been offered, yet most of them are failures.
1. These imprecations are intended purely for our spiritual enemies, not other humans, for our battle is not against flesh and blood (Ephesians 6:12).
Though this explanation would correctly apply the imprecatory psalms to spiritual foes like Satan, it misses the obvious historical fact that the psalms, when written, directly addressed other men. Angels do not have wives who can be made widows. Unfortunately, this explanation derives its force from a fundamental misinterpretation of Ephesians 6:12. In the passage, Paul is emphasizing the great power of our enemies: that they are not merely flesh and blood, but demonic principalities, whence derives our need to put on the whole armor of God. He is not seeking to discourage us from conceiving of any embodied soul as an eligible candidate for spiritual enmity. Indeed, beyond common sense, the basic premises that humans are embodied souls, that souls are spiritual, and that our enemies are spiritual should show rather definitively how other humans can become our religious and spiritual enemies.
2. Only Jesus is righteous enough to pray these imprecations. I wouldn’t call them sin, but I couldn’t in good conscience pray them myself.
This explanation is surprisingly common but erroneous on several levels. First, it neglects a rudimentary historical fact: the inspired psalmist himself, though far from sinless, was fit to pray these imprecations. Hence it follows that sinlessness is not prerequisite to repeat these prayers—that sinlessness is not prerequisite to quote Scripture!
Second, the underlying belief for this explanation is pietistic to the core and implicitly blasphemous; the uneasiness which many Christians harbor regarding imprecations is a moral uneasiness, and the discomfort caused to their consciences derives from their belief in imprecations’ sinfulness. (Why else would they be unable to pray such imprecations in good conscience?) But if a man, even one who professes the lawfulness of an action, is unwilling to execute that action in any circumstance, then he in practice holds that action to be sinful. Thus we see sentimentalists who suppose themselves kinder than God, derogating His inspired Word while professing to uphold it as above them. Or, perhaps, we see (wo)menpleasers who dare not offend the females in their congregation, preserving their own reputation by “exalting” biblical imprecations as inimitable.
Third, this explanation is an entire perversion of morality itself. If morality requires us to have a certain attitude and desire for the wicked’s just destruction, imprecatorily expressed in some circumstances, then we cannot, from a claim of our moral lowliness, excuse ourselves from that obligation. The sinner who claims an exemption from God’s law due to his sinfulness has rather compounded it.
Fourth, this explanation is grounded in a pair of relevant truths, but abuses them. The relevant truths are that the psalms fundamentally point to Jesus as their fulfillment—as Luke 24:44 and all the psalms cited in the New Testament prove—and that the psalmists’ imprecations characteristically emanate from a position of moral superiority. “I honor You; they do not; therefore destroy them.”
The abuse of the first truth has already been mentioned: though these psalms ultimately point to Jesus, they do not solely do so, for they all have an original historical referent at the time of their writing. Hence one need not be Jesus in order to repeat these words.
The abuse of the second truth is twofold: (a) Though many Christians like to protest in false humility that we are the moral equals of unregenerates, the truth is the contrary. It is a sin only against the idol of egalitarianism to believe oneself morally superior to another person; Christians should have no qualms acknowledging the Spirit-wrought moral superiorities which we now possess. To say that regenerates are “no different” from unregenerates is either a rank denial of one’s sanctification, or (in this context) a misleading communication that we, apart from divine grace, are no morally different from unbelievers.1 At any rate, notwithstanding our indwelling sin, it is clearly true that Christians can be sufficiently righteous to non-hypocritically condemn others’ immoralities, for the psalms themselves understand an interior righteousness to be compatible (though not harmonious) with some degree of sin (e.g. Psalm 119:176). (b) But irrespective of (a), moral uprightness is not strictly necessary to pray imprecations. It should be obvious that a less-than-moral man can righteously condemn evil in others without hypocrisy, so long as he is likewise willing to condemn the same in himself (Matt. 7:1-2). The psalms give a precise example of this, where the psalmist beckons a self-imprecation for his own wickedness (Ps. 7:3-5). Therefore there exists no absolute requirement to be sinless, or even to be sufficiently moral, in order to pray imprecations. The whole line of thought is completely spurious.
3. Scripture often records the sinful actions of mere men, and we are not to emulate them without warrant.
A more derisive slander of the psalms cannot be found. The psalms contain the songs and prayers which God designed for His church to guard and cherish in all ages. They are not mere historical narratives which include descriptions of various sins, but are constructed to represent our own mind in worshiping God perfectly—and what is more, they are constructed to represent Christ’s mind as well. To suppose that the psalms contain sinful expressions, when Christ Himself teaches that the psalms find their ultimate fulfillment in Him (Luke 24:44), so that their fullest meaning is displayed when expressed by His lips (e.g. Matt. 27:46), is ludicrous and evil.
But further: note well that this explanation starkly contradicts the thesis that only Christ is sufficiently righteous to permissibly pray imprecations. Imprecations cannot simultaneously be too holy to be uttered by sinful men and too sinful to be uttered by holy men. Not uncommonly, however, these explanations will be fired off in succession.
4. That was the Old Testament. Jesus has given a new law of love (John 13:34) to govern our conduct.
This answer is transparently Marcionite, rejecting the vindictive, hateful Old Testament God for a loving, gentle Jesus. The only way it can be sustained is if one posits contradiction in the moral principles which have been progressively divinely revealed,2 but it should be obvious why such an answer is unacceptable. God cannot lie.
Furthermore, this explanation neglects that the second greatest commandment, the exhortation of love for neighbor, was already present in the Old Covenant in full force (Lev. 19:18), evidently already compatible with the imprecatory psalms. The true meaning of John 13:34, then, is that Jesus was giving His disciples a law previously buried by Jewish tradition and obfuscation, hence new in their context, as well as renewed by its communication in the context of a new epoch of redemptive history, where God’s love would now be spread abroad to all nations with the marching of the gospel.3 There is a sense in which Christ’s ministry heightened His moral demands upon man, especially in the Sermon on the Mount, but this is only in His especial emphasis He places upon our interior renewal (cf. Ps. 51:6), not in any modification of our objective moral duties. Lust was forbidden by the seventh commandment and hatred by the sixth prior to Christ’s explicitly saying so in Matthew 5.
5. The imprecatory psalms were reflective of Old Testament ethics, akin to the laws of Canaanite genocide, but through progressive revelation our New Testament ethical norms have changed.
This error involves the distinction between moral law and positive law. If imprecations are forbidden by moral principle itself—e.g. if they violated the moral duty to love our neighbor, as most opponents of imprecations tacitly contend—then they could be permitted in the Old Covenant only through an extraordinary positive law. This would be just as God commanded the ancient Israelites to slay all Canaanites, delegating His providential justice to them, without which their doing so would by nature have been murderous; likewise, on this view, imprecations would be by nature sinful but by dispensation permitted. On the other hand, if imprecations are by nature morally permissible (not forbidden absolutely by moral duty, but varying by circumstance), then the only way they could be exhaustively forbidden in the New Covenant is if Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, went above and beyond our moral duties, issuing a superadded positive law, beyond what moral principle strictly requires, to forbid all imprecations. These are the only two ways this objection can be construed: either (1) God issued a positive law permitting imprecations in the OT when they would by nature have been forbidden, or (2) Christ issued a positive law forbidding imprecations in the NT when they would by nature be permitted.
But (1) is unlikely, for the psalms were not themselves laws, and there is no evidence that God temporarily issued any positive law to Israel commanding them only for a time to hate others, which law is now rescinded. On the contrary, the principle underlying the imprecatory psalms is pervasively moral, being a natural, spontaneous response of a God-loving heart to others’ wickedness. There is no biblical evidence anywhere that these attitudes and specific prayers occurred only because God gave a particular people a temporary law to do what would otherwise be immoral.
Furthermore, I cannot even contemplate how it would be fitting for God to issue such a command. It is reasonable that He would command the Canaanites’ genocide in order to clear Israel’s promised land of dangerous unbelievers, but there is no plausible purpose served by the Israelites’ harboring an internal disposition of hatred and praying to God for their enemies’ destruction—especially if doing so would, without such a positive law, actually be sinful. And lastly, if that weren’t enough, we have good grounds to see this imprecatory principle taught in the New Testament as well (see below), in which case it could not possibly have been a positive commandment confined to the Old Testament church.
(2) is even more dubious, for such a hypothesis would have to deny that the New Testament commandments forbidding imprecations (e.g. Matt. 5:44) are derivations of the duty to love one’s neighbor. At best, (2) teaches that neighbor-love morally forbids imprecations in most circumstances, so that Jesus positively forbids the handful of circumstantially permissible imprecations, as if a no-imprecations policy were a good rule of thumb which Christ now strictly and absolutely imposes on His followers. But even this interpretation involves a superadded positive law forbidding what the moral law permits, which is untenable for any who regard passages like Matthew 5:44 as expositions of the moral law, or who regard imprecations as intrinsically and always incompatible with the second greatest commandment. If we follow natural reason and the text of Scripture in understanding “bless them that curse you” to be an application of “love thy neighbor,” then this positivistic hypothesis is no outlet to us.4 We must still articulate how the hatred countenanced in the psalms is morally compatible with the neighbor-love which our Savior enjoins.
6. These imprecations are poetic hyperbole. They are not meant to be taken literally.5
This explanation depends on the allegedly hyperbolic usage of the term “hate” in other biblical passages, such as Romans 9:13 and Luke 14:26. But whatever merit there might be in describing these passages as poetic hyperbole, this explanation cannot possibly be applied to explain away the myriad of Scriptures pleading for the destruction of one’s enemies. Psalm 109:9 refers to a real man becoming a real corpse. If the abundance of imprecations were so distortable as to deny that they mean what they plainly communicate, then the rest of the psalms and rest of the Bible itself would be entirely undone.
7. We are to love our own enemies, but we are to hate God’s enemies.
This might be the most common answer presented, and it was likewise the answer which I promoted in my previous article on biblical hate. Its force is clearest when the two passages cited at the beginning of this article are juxtaposed, Matthew 5:44 and Psalm 139:21-22. Yet the latter passage includes a phrase which immediately disproves the view: “I count them mine enemies.” David, as the inspired psalmist, here writes that his shared hatred of God’s enemies makes them to be shared enemies as well. God’s enemies become his enemies. But it inevitably follows, then, that it is permissible, even righteous in certain circumstances, to hate certain individuals as personal enemies, i.e. as enemies to one’s own person. This principle is made much more obvious in other psalms, which explicitly refer to personal enemies of the psalmist (e.g. Ps. 6:10; 35:4-8; 109:29).
Irrespective of these citations, however, this explanation is inherently implausible. The reason why God’s enemies deserve our hatred is because of the grievous sin involved in opposing God. But this same grounds for holy hatred—sin—exists when people unlawfully oppose us as well. Obviously, there is a very relevant distinction here, for those who oppose God ipso facto commit sin, whereas other men can oppose us righteously and thus not deserve any indignation of ours in response. Moreover, it is a far graver sin to oppose God than to (wrongfully) oppose men. Nevertheless, the just cause for hatred is found in both God-hatred and man-hatred, and thus we can hate personal enemies qua personal enemies, so long as these personal enemies wrongfully oppose us, hating us “without a cause” (Ps. 35:19; 69:4).
8. I find no way to harmonize them; they are an apparent paradox. Therefore I will let the clear interpret the unclear, and refrain from praying imprecations until I arrive at a satisfactory harmonization.
I fully understand that many would have difficulty in harmonizing these verses, which is exactly my motivation for writing this article. But the proper conclusion to draw, if one understands no way to reconcile these two classes of texts, is to embrace both of them—to still have a willingness to incorporate the imprecatory psalms into one’s prayers. Both classes of texts are clear; neither can be said to be unclear. Hence it would be purely arbitrary to neglect one with a pretext of modest agnosticism.
9. God’s emotions are fundamentally different from ours, so we cannot assume this is referring to human hatred.
But we must. For this inspired language to be at all appropriate, there must be some analogy where the chosen emotive words communicate the human affections which God wishes to specify. If some deep disconnect prevented explicit language of hatred, as applied to God, to morally direct any sort of hatred on our part, then this same disconnect would prevent all other emotive language from applying to us at all. We could not follow God’s example of love, either, if we used this principle against following His example of hatred.
Beyond this point, however, the psalms lucidly describe human hate. Psalm 139:21-22 explicitly states that the psalmist hates those whom God hates. Hence there is no disconnect in the first place which could even apply. The human psalmist directs his human hatred towards other persons, and under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, he finds it fitting to present this hatred as an example for others to emulate. Any points concerning anthropopathisms and the chasm between human and divine emotivity are thence irrelevant.
10. These verses are all in the psalms, not elsewhere in Scripture.
God need speak only once to command our allegiance, so we should be satisfied that these principles of holy hatred and imprecation flood the psalms. No need arises for these principles to exist elsewhere in the canon. Yet, once we understand the interplay of the various principles involved, we can perceive this imprecatory, enemy-hating teaching in a multitude of other places. The Abrahamic covenant includes a promise that God will curse those who curse His people (Gen. 12:3), and this principle is emulated by Isaac (27:29) and Rebekah’s family (24:60). Scripture everywhere speaks of God’s indignation being kindled by others’ sin (e.g. Ex. 4:14; Num. 11:1, 10; 12:9; 22:22; 25:3; 32:10, 13; Deut. 4:25; 6:15; 7:4; 9:18-19; 11:17; 13:17; 29:24; 31:29; Josh. 7:1; Judg. 2:14; 2 Sam. 6:7; 1 Kings 14:9; 2 Kings 23:26; 2 Chron. 28:25; 33:6; Ps. 56:7; Isa. 5:25; 63:3; Jer. 25:37; Lam. 4:11; Ezek. 5:13; 25:14; Amos 1:11; Micah 5:15; Heb. 10:30-31), which example is followed by men (e.g. Ex. 32:19; 1 Sam. 20:34; 2 Cor. 11:29)—and ought to be, unless we should be indifferent, jolly, or only slightly uncomfortable by others’ sin. Requited destruction for one’s enemies is approved in both God (Deut. 30:7; 32:41) and man (2 Sam. 22:41; Esther 9:1, 5), and the wrath of the Lord looms over those who aid and love the wicked (2 Chron. 19:2). Moreover, Hosea 9:14 presents us with a rather shocking imprecation, a prayer for miscarriages. Beyond these Old Testament passages, we can see principles of imprecation in the New Testament as well (1 Cor. 16:22; Gal. 1:8-9; 2 Tim. 4:14; Rev. 19:3). Perhaps the relation of many of these passages to the righteousness of holy hatred can be better expounded and explained, but for now it will suffice to say that the general principles underlying the righteousness of holy hatred and imprecations (in addition to explicit imprecations themselves) pervade the rest of Scripture, not just the psalms.
11. We ought to sustain both a disposition of love for our enemies and a disposition of holy hatred for our enemies. These dispositions are not incompatible, even if they cannot always be expressed simultaneously.
This is the view I advocate. To be properly understood and appreciated, however, this explanation for these passages’ harmonization will require a deeper and more systematic inquiry into other related topics, beginning with an understanding of the nature of love.
The True Conception of Love
The conception of love taught by our mainstream culture is fundamentally romantic and sentimental, holding that an abiding emotional disposition of romantic feelings—that is, being “in love”—is both necessary and sufficient for a new physical relationship to form. Hence we see the abomination of sodomitic “love,” grounded in two men’s consensual, though perverse, desires for one another. By forcefully emphasizing constant romance and ignoring the rational, teleological boundaries of marital love, the media effectively communicates that love is nothing more than romantic. This romantic conception of love, however, is not so much false as it is incomplete, for God has clearly designed romantic love to flourish within the covenantal fences of marriage; the error in this sentimentalist conception is its failure to ground romantic love in a sturdy, action- and principle-based foundation.
This foundation is where we find the true conception of love: willing the good for another.6 To love another person is to will that person’s well-being or flourishing in all the components included therein: physical, mental, religious, social, moral, sexual, and so on. It is to desire that a person’s flourishing come about, and hence it involves actively working to bring about that person’s multifaceted flourishing within the bounds of one’s finitude and of one’s correlative duties. For example, a father who earns a respectable but finite income can notice the plight of foreign children several continents away, and he can truly desire their material well-being to increase, but he is not necessarily morally permitted to materially aid these children, given his prior moral duties to materially (and otherwise) aid his own (1 Timothy 5:8). Yet it would be preposterous to argue that, merely because this father is incapable of financing the end of world hunger, he therefore does not truly love the foreigners in question. One can have a genuine love even while that disposition is unexpressible in the circumstances.
Moreover, to will another’s good is necessarily different according to the relation of the beloved to the lover. Love for one’s wife is quite different from love for one’s neighbor’s wife: though it is a man’s moral duty to will the flourishing of both, the manner in which he can permissibly contribute to their flourishing is quite different. And this is true for all relations we have: love for one’s son is different from love for one’s friend, love for one’s pet, and love for one’s boss, yet they all can be understood within the umbrella-concept of willing another’s good. Contra the purely romantic conception of love, marriage is to be grounded in a legally-binding promise to love, that is, to will the spouse’s good, for life; and only within this promissory framework can romantic love properly flourish.
Love as the Fulfillment of the Law
As will be argued below, the conception of love as willing another’s good is helpful for grasping the compatibility of the biblical passages exhorting both love and hatred. Unfortunately, a different way of defining love, incompatible with the one already presented, has also been offered by those seeking to harmonize the biblical witness on love and hate, grounded in St. Paul’s teaching that “love is the fulfilling of the law” (Romans 13:10). This definition of love holds that to love one’s neighbor is nothing more than to fulfill God’s law with respect to one’s neighbor.
Now, there is a sense in which this principle is biblical, true, and harmonious with the conception of love just asserted. We can easily maintain that God’s law outlines all the ways in which we are to increase the flourishing of others, and thus, when we fulfill God’s law in this regard, we are thereby loving our neighbors; and we have no obligation unto our neighbors not already contained in God’s law. God’s law forbids theft, so safeguarding my neighbor’s property demonstrates my love towards him. God’s law requires honoring superiors, so submitting to and obeying them demonstrates my love towards them. And so on, throughout the second table of the Decalogue.
But the problem emerges when we realize how this principle has been formulated precisely to explain the biblical teachings on hatred. Against a more sentimentalistic conception of love, which frankly cannot see how biblical passages exhorting holy hatred are compatible with genuine neighbor-love, this view of love-as-law-fulfillment responds with vigor: contrary to whatever sentimental intuitions one may have, to love is nothing more than to execute God’s law, and hence praying for someone else’s destruction, insofar as it is within the commandments given by God, is ipso facto loving. Executing sodomites (Lev. 20:13) is not unloving in any way, for we are executing God’s law with respect to them, and thus loving them. The same goes with imprecatory prayers for others’ suffering. Therefore, this view of love-as-law-fulfillment desires to avoid any potential biblical conflict by defining love as by its very nature nothing more than the fulfillment of God’s commands.
Much ink could be spilt on the error of this view, for it is an extremely unintuitive understanding of love, disconnecting the nature of love from the idea of well-being or flourishing (or divine glory),7 instead asserting that love by its nature is commandment-fulfillment. To fully explicate the problems with this view would require a more thoroughgoing analysis of this view as essentially a confusion of moral law and positive law, in addition to a fuller exegesis of Romans 13:10. Nevertheless, a smaller refutation can be proposed.
The central error in this view is that it undermines the very thing it seeks to explain. If love by definition is the fulfillment of God’s commandments, then hate, by definition, is the lack thereof. Hatred of God is nothing more than refusing to fulfill His commands; hatred of neighbor is refusing to fulfill God’s commands pertaining to that neighbor. Again, if love and hate are opposites, and if love by its nature is divine-commandment-fulfillment, then hatred can be nothing else than a neglect or disdain of these commands. But if this is so, then it is a stark contradiction to assert that God commands us to hate His enemies, or that it is loving to hate them; for we cannot fulfill God’s law with respect to a person by refusing to fulfill God’s law with respect to him. Much less can God Himself hate His enemies, on this definition, lest we accuse Him of violating His own commandments with respect to them! The only appropriate solution is to take the more historical and intuitive notion of love as willing the good of another, harmonizing the biblical texts with such a conception of love in mind. While loving one’s neighbor always involves the fulfillment of our moral duties, and hence God’s law, respecting that neighbor, nonetheless we can understand that love by its nature is not simply command-fulfillment. The nature of love is not command-fulfillment, even though all genuine acts of love will necessarily be according to God’s law.
With love properly understood as willing another’s flourishing, hatred would be willing another’s suffering, a decrease in his well-being. But to better understand the biblical, holy form of hatred, it would be profitable to understand the proper notion of retributive justice.
The True Conception of Justice
Many today offer conceptions of just punishment grounded in deterrence, the moral restoration of the criminal, or other future-oriented theories, where punishments are just only so long as they increase the long-run happiness of the criminal or of society in aggregate. The biblical truth is averse to this, holding that justice’s fundamental aim is penal satisfaction, deterrence and restoration being secondary. That is to say, the biblical idea of justice, at root, is to purposefully cause the criminal’s suffering as a penalty merited by his sin, irrespective of whatever increase in well-being might accrue otherwise, justice remaining unsatisfied without such suffering. R.L. Dabney writes as much, arguing that vindicatory justice is essential to God: that God necessarily must punish sin to maintain His holy rectitude, that He cannot neglect to punish sin without denying Himself. Indeed, the very doctrine of hell presupposes most clearly that justice is fundamentally retributive, meted out primarily for its own satisfaction and not for the future flourishing of the punished. Similarly, the doctrine of Christ’s penal substitution would be morally monstrous if it were not necessary; it is precisely because a perfect sacrifice was requisite to satisfy justice that ineffable love shines through Jesus’s gruesome death. And finally, Scripture teaches a lex talionis, a law of retaliation, where sin intrinsically merits punishment and where punishment is proportioned to sin (Deut. 19:21).
This inexorable connection between sin and punishment demonstrates the awful truth that, by its very nature, sin deserves misery. Justice requires suffering to be inflicted upon the sinner, independent of whatever flourishing might accrue from the inflicted suffering. The lex talionis serves as a judicial reflection of this principle, the magistrate being “a revenger to execute wrath” upon evildoers (Rom. 13:4; Ps. 101:7-8), yet it is crucial to acknowledge that this lex is a civil manifestation of a much larger moral principle tying suffering to sin. As all suffering is ordained by God within the wisdom of His vast moral government, all suffering occurs only as a punishment for sin.8 All suffering is ultimately a punishment administered by the supreme moral Authority of the universe, rather than an unintelligent and necessary product of natural causes, for nature is itself guided, in its every detail, by the Almighty.9 This is the foundation for the fundamental principle of retributive justice, that all sin deserves misery, within which framework subsists the more particular lex talionis, which is at base a delegation of wrathfulness from God to a human authority. Just as God administers wrath upon sinners in His universal moral government, magistrates administer wrath upon criminals in their human commonwealths; and magistrates are instruments which God uses to providentially administer His wrath upon sin as well.
What is remarkable about this principle of retributive justice is how deeply it can be contrasted with the principle of love just defined. Whereas love is a desire for another’s flourishing, retributive justice is a desire for another’s suffering, proportioned to his crimes. To desire retributive justice, which is vital to godly character just like love, is to virtuously desire others’ well-being to decrease. Without this conception, justice reduces purely to love (as all humanistic theories plainly admit); but the true, biblical conception of justice must maintain that justice requires suffering for its own satisfaction. Any denial of this fundamentally retributive nature of justice overthrows both reason and Scripture.
Government, Justice, and Hatred
As stated above, the lex talionis is a particular principle within a larger framework of retributive justice, a human manifestation of the principle of God’s moral government. This relation between human and divine government can further aid our understanding of holy hatred. Unless everyone extinguishes all natural impulses of moral indignation against sin (notwithstanding that such impulses can be misdirected), everyone understands the righteousness of desiring criminals’ punishment. When a serial pedophile-rapist-murderer terrorizes and mutilates a slew of children, all who hear of such horrors naturally wish to see the criminal die a severe, grisly death. They naturally yearn to see retributive justice meted out, to witness a punishment befitting the crime, to behold the satisfaction of justice. They wish for the human authorities in charge of wrath-execution to properly fulfill their role by slaying the heinous criminal.
But if this desire for human justice is itself righteous, then we can easily see how the same is true for divine justice. We not merely can desire a human magistrate to administer wrath on evildoers, but can desire the same by our perfect divine Magistrate. We can plead with God to satisfy justice in the suffering of the wicked. This is, indeed, precisely what most imprecatory psalms are: pleadings for divine justice to be executed upon the wicked unto their hurt.
A crucial corollary to draw from these considerations is that the principle of the lex talionis, as applied in the civil sphere, requires in God’s moral order a corresponding disposition of hatred for sinners. We ought to hate criminals by desiring their suffering, proportioned to their crimes, at the hands of a magistrate; and we ought to hate sinners by desiring their suffering, proportioned to their sins (cosmic crimes), at the hands of God Himself. We should long for retributive justice to be applied to criminals by God Himself and by the various sovereigns which God has ordained within human society, and our longing for retributive justice to be applied to all criminals within God’s moral government—all sinners—is holy hatred.10 Through such a disposition of hatred, we emulate God in His perfectly just and holy character, rejoicing in the death of the wicked, and praying towards such an end.
We can properly formulate love as a disposition for another’s flourishing and holy hatred as a disposition for another’s suffering, conditioned on and proportioned to his sin. (It would also be accurate to say that hatred, whether holy or unholy, is a disposition for another’s suffering.) This grants us progress in harmonizing the biblical texts addressing love and hate, yet we remain short of a full answer, unless we can understand how these dispositions, in particular, do not conflict. How can one harmoniously maintain both a disposition for another’s flourishing and a disposition for his suffering? The answer to this requires a brief excursion on the nature of dispositions.
Dabney argues magnificently that rational volitions nearly always involve a multitude of motives underneath them, so that a given situation often requires certain dispositions to be held in check and others expressed:
Now, in man, every rational volition is prompted by a motive, which is in every case, complex to this degree, at least that it involves some active appetency of the will and some prevalent judgment of the intelligence. And every wise volition is the result of virtual or formal deliberation, in which one element of motive is weighed in relation to another, and the elements which appear superior in the judgment of the intelligence, preponderate and regulate the volition. Hence, the wise man’s volition is often far from being the expression of every conception and affection present in his consciousness at the time; but it is often reached by holding one of these elements of possible motive in check, at the dictate of a more controlling one. For instance a philanthropic man meets a distressed and destitute person. The good man is distinctly conscious in himself of a movement of sympathy tending towards a volition to give the sufferer money. But he remembers that he has expressly promised all the money now in his possession, to be paid this very day to a just creditor. The good man bethinks himself, that he “ought to be just before he is generous,” and conscience and wisdom counterpoise the impulse of sympathy; so that it does not form the deliberate volition to give alms. But the sympathy exists, and it is not inconsistent to give other expression to it.11
Multiple dispositions, if not restrained or qualified by others, can all individually tend towards contradictory actions as their logical terminus, yet this can occur without those dispositions existing in some sort of essential conflict or disharmony. An agent both compassionate and just would apprehend that his compassion, ceteris paribus, tends toward a volition of almsgiving, whereas his commutative justice would restrain that disposition with the reflection that he is not at liberty to donate another man’s money. None, however, would see compassion and commutative justice as inherently conflicting principles, as if it were preposterous or otherwise troublesome for the two traits to coexist within one holy, harmonious soul.
The examples can be multiplied beyond Dabney’s instance of almsgiving. The principle of 1 Timothy 5:8 shows how compassion can be restrained, not simply by commutative justice, but by a higher regard for the welfare of one’s own. Just as the above man could express his regard for the beggar while refusing to give him alms, so also could a just man express his regard for foreigners’ welfare, acknowledging his true, compassionate desire for their increased well-being—his love for them—while simultaneously directing his attention, resources, and labors away from the foreigners and unto his own people. As another example, consider Christ’s words in the Gospel of Luke, that a true disciple of Christ must “hate” his father, mother, wife, children, brothers, sisters, and himself (Luke 14:26). One must be willing to reject his own family insofar as his eminently higher allegiance to Christ requires it. That is to say, a man must reject some actions towards which a disposition of family-love tends, in the circumstances where Christ-love supersedes those actions. Love for one’s family is a natural and righteous disposition to maintain, yet it is sometimes fitting to restrain that disposition for the sake of Christ’s honor. But at no point would we ever dare to say that family-love and Christ-love, as dispositions, are themselves incompatible or disharmonious.
A further example of this is the rejection of certain types or quantities of food for the sake of one’s health. An agent can acknowledge and desire the gustatory pleasure to be derived from a given dish and yet restrain that disposition by a higher consideration of his health or of the immorality of gluttony. Yet again, no one would ever dare insinuate that the disposition of desiring delicious foods and the disposition of desiring overall health and dietary moderation are, in themselves, disharmonious, even if they cannot bear simultaneous expression in certain circumstances. And once this example of food-consumption is understood as an instance of disposition-conflict, we can likewise see how any temptation whatsoever, as well as any trade-off whatsoever—any kind of conflict between competing goods, and hence between our competing dispositions to attain those competing goods—demonstrates the same point. Multiple dispositions can, considered without qualification and in themselves, yield contradictory actions, even while the dispositions are not in themselves disharmonious or conflicting.
We arrive at the proper and direct answer to the issue presented at this article’s beginning: We ought to sustain both a disposition of love for our enemies and a disposition of holy hatred for our enemies. These dispositions are not incompatible, even if they cannot always be expressed simultaneously. Love is willing the flourishing of another; hatred is willing his suffering, holy hatred willing his suffering on the premise of sin. In any given circumstance, with respect to specific possible courses of actions, the disposition of love will tend towards some action aimed at the flourishing of another, while the disposition of holy hatred will tend towards some action aimed at his suffering, as a retributive penalty for his sin. Few actions, if any, can be simultaneous expressions of both dispositions, yet the dispositions are not thereby disharmonious or incompatible as such. Hence, the teaching of enemy-love, as displayed in such passages as Matthew 5:44, stresses the importance of having such a loving disposition for one’s enemies, manifesting that disposition in particular acts of charity and grace. On the other hand, the holy hatred which we see sanctioned in the imprecatory psalms (and elsewhere) communicates the righteousness of such a disposition, as well as the propriety of actions motivated by such a disposition. These two dispositions are not in themselves incompatible, and different circumstances will call for one disposition to be expressed while other circumstances will require the other disposition’s expression. The propriety of praying imprecations in certain circumstances does not entail that we should never bless our enemies, and the propriety of blessing our enemies does not entail that we should never pray imprecations, not any more than a command to work (1 Thess. 4:11) forbids sleep and recreation in all circumstances. The exercise of either virtue – enemy-love or sinner-hatred – is not incompatible with the genuine subsistence of the other; one need not sacrifice one disposition to retain or employ the other. Thus are these two classes of texts harmonized.
Some might still object that these two dispositions could be harmonious, notwithstanding the previous examples. They might hold that as love and hate are themselves contrary dispositions—not merely yielding contradictory actions in certain circumstances, but always contradicting each other as such—then they would be as inherently incompatible as both desiring to eat delicious food and desiring not to. Indeed, the general difficulty of seeing how such love and hate do not directly contradict each other is the exact reason why passages like Matthew 5 and Psalm 139 stand in need of harmonization, whereas we have no need to harmonize, say, the desire to eat delicious food with the desire to be healthy and fit.
The distinction between righteous and unrighteous hatred can illuminate the compatibility of love and righteous hatred as dispositions. As stated above, hatred is a desire for another’s suffering, a decrease in his well-being. Holy hatred desires another’s suffering solely as a penalty for his sin, while unholy hatred desires another’s suffering without such qualification. Thomas Aquinas speaks to this distinction in the context of inflicting physical vengeance upon criminals:
Vengeance consists in the infliction of a penal evil on one who has sinned. Accordingly, in the matter of vengeance, we must consider the mind of the avenger. For if his intention is directed chiefly to the evil of the person on whom he takes vengeance and rests there, then his vengeance is altogether unlawful: because to take pleasure in another’s evil belongs to hatred, which is contrary to the charity whereby we are bound to love all men.12
If hatred is directed at another’s suffering “and rests there,” then it is most clearly in contradiction with the injunction to love our enemies, for it is a stark contradiction both to desire their flourishing, period, and to desire their suffering, period. But note: hating someone as a person, or as an image-bearer, is far different from hating him as a sinner, and hence holy hatred is compatible with love for others as persons and as image-bearers. Dispositions like desiring to eat food and desiring not to eat food, considered without qualification, are certainly contradictory as dispositions; and dispositions like willing another’s flourishing and willing another’s suffering, considered without qualification, are likewise contradictory as dispositions—yet willing another’s flourishing qua image-bearer involves no such contradiction with the disposition of willing another’s suffering qua sinner. Their practical application might create some confusion—“given that X is a sinner, am I, in this circumstance, to act for his flourishing or act for his suffering?”—but the dispositions, considered in themselves, cannot be supposed contradictory.
The acceptability of this dispositional coexistence should be much more obvious when we consider the biblical evidence that God retains the same sorts of dispositions Himself. I contend that God has a disposition of love for man universally; of itself and without qualification by any other motive, this disposition would result in universal salvation, but when counterpoised by a higher motive for His glory to be displayed in His justice (Romans 9:22), His overall providence includes the reprobation of a portion of humanity. But completely independent of this consideration, we know as a fact that God both hates the wicked (e.g. Ps. 5:5; 7:11) and loves His elect (e.g. Romans 8:38-39). The question is: Does He possess a disposition of hatred against sin and sinners with reference to the elect’s sinfulness? Some might say no, but anyone who understands the impartiality of moral judgments must conclude otherwise. Dabney comments on this issue, as regards God’s love for the elect but sinful Jacob:
The question which we wish to press just here is this: Did not God feel, notwithstanding this properly overruling rational motive, the abhorrence for Jacob’s foreseen original sin and actual meanness, suitable for an infinitely holy nature to feel, and naturally tending, had it not been counterpoised, to Jacob’s righteous rejection? The Scriptures answer this question for us. (See Ezek. 16:5-6; Neh. 9:27; Jer. 32:31, 37; 1 Peter 4:17.) Indeed, neither our good sense nor the admitted principles of theology allow us to answer in the negative. For the former decides that moral principles must act impartially, raising similar sentiments when similar objects are presented; and we cannot conceive how a rational and ethical nature could be sensible to the demerit of A’s act, and insensible to the very same demerit of B’s act.13
If God has a just abhorrence for the sin of His elect, including an aiming of this abhorrence at their persons as right reason and moral judgments require, and if He owns this abhorrence consistently with a salvific love intended to maximize His elect’s flourishing, then, most vividly, the dispositions of love and holy hatred are compatible and harmonious. God both hates His elect qua sinners and loves them qua elect. Consequently, we can likewise sustain both dispositions without essential conflict ourselves.
One final comment can be provided concerning these dispositions’ compatibility. An intuition which many may have regarding love and hate, possibly motivating them to reject any sort of essential compatibility of the two, is that they cannot imagine any acts which would be the simultaneous expression of both dispositions. For instance, they might have no such qualms concerning the disposition for delicious food and the disposition for health; while those dispositions might conflict in certain cases, they need not necessarily conflict in all cases—but love and hatred (even holy hatred) can seemingly never be simultaneously part of the complex motive-structure which motivates a particular action. Accordingly, many deny that love and hatred can ever be compatible as dispositions, if one must always exclude the other within the motivational structure underlying any given action.
The answer to this is a straightforward denial of the premise. There certainly are cases where the infliction of suffering for sin is simultaneously aimed at the flourishing of the punished. Sometimes criminals, aware of the grave crimes they have committed, experience psychological torments in the absence of punishment. This psychological sense of guilt can lead certain criminals to confess their crime in the first place, and it can lead already-convicted criminals to have their consciences assuaged as they near the time of their punishment, even as they also fear the upcoming pain. Consequently, the infliction of suffering on such criminals can indeed lead to their flourishing. The same is true for God’s own treatment of believers in His moral government. Death remains for all believers as a vestige of the primordial Adamic curse, a final penalty which we must all pay, even though believers suffer it as a paternal chastisement, not as any sort of penal satisfaction. If the Scriptures teach anything about death, they describe it as a penalty, an infliction of suffering for sin (Rom. 5:12). Hence our entrance into glory—a supreme instance of flourishing—is effectuated by a clear instance of suffering, leading Paul to even desire this penalty’s infliction (Col. 1:23). Lastly, this very category of paternal chastisements demonstrates how the infliction of suffering can itself be aimed at the flourishing of the punished. When parents discipline their children, they necessarily aim to inflict suffering on their children as a penalty for some sin, some species of filial disobedience, and their primary objective in doing so is to cultivate moral habitudes, over the long run, within their children’s character. All these examples demonstrate that love and holy hatred14 can be co-present within the motivations underlying certain actions, and hence better show how they, as dispositions, are essentially compatible.
Even if no strictly conceptual objections remain against this proposed harmonization, the remaining hurdles for many, no doubt, involve the practical application of the answer, especially given that all are sinners. How, practically speaking, are we to balance the desire for others’ flourishing as humans and their suffering as sinners, expressing love in certain circumstances and hatred in others? Should we be angry at everyone we encounter, quick to scold him for his sin? Should we bring it upon ourselves to make others suffer for their sins? Should we generally seek to maximize the suffering of the rest of mankind? We can presume the answers to these questions are all negative, but we must clearly explain why they are, within the confines of the thesis just presented.
Initially, we can appeal to a rudimentary feature of Christian social order: that God, among His providential retributions, has delegated for His wrath to be meted out by certain human authorities, outside of which the dispensing of specific punishments is ordinarily not permitted (Rom. 12:19; 13:4). Hence, for example, fathers and magistrates, by virtue of their office, can execute punishments within their respective jurisdictions; without such delegated authority, individuals are normatively forbidden from assuming these punitive roles. By invoking this tenet of Christian social order, we would rule out the absurdity that all individuals are required, from a motive of holy hatred, to physically harm sinners (i.e. all their neighbors). We would limit the permissibility of directly causing suffering to those given the office with which to administer such punishments.
But this answer does not get us very far in demonstrating the thesis’s practicability. The weightier practical issues of the thesis revolve around how we ought to feel towards others, particularly what kinds of motives and attitudes should animate our behavior towards them. A prohibition against inflicting outward violence on others is rather trivial, if the thesis requires merely that a man restrain his ever-abiding hatred for all his neighbors from culminating in physical violence.
The general answer for this thesis’s practical application, consistent with our moral intuitions against a demeanor of constant, universal hatred, is that the active principle of holy hatred should be operational only in the face of egregious sin, being far more latent, sometimes even invisible, in our ordinary interactions with “average” sinners. Our predominant, operative disposition in ordinary circumstances should be one of goodwill, candor, and kindness—in a word, love. We should endure our own suffering, including our own suffering as caused by others’ wickedness, with longsuffering. Yet as others’ wickedness naturally stimulates our dispositions of holy hatred, a sufficient degree of wickedness should progressively rouse us to conscious ire and hatred, in the ordinary sense of the word. What counts as sufficient wickedness to warrant our hatred will vary based on the circumstances, but a few examples can be provided. If we are aware of an evil political ruler who has no ethnic right to rule, usurps the bounds of his office, emits slanders and deceptions with impunity, incites and continues foreign wars, and actively supports such perversions as sodomy and abortion, then it is not wrong to consciously hate him and pray for “another [to] take his office” (Ps. 109:8). Or, if the neighborhood in which one resides harbors a blasphemous rapist-murderer, one need not act cheerily towards him, but can consciously desire his suffering and destruction. The world is full of evil men among whom to locate excellent candidates for our antipathy.
Of the circumstances which would alter the degree of sinfulness necessary to inflame holy hatred, we ought, among other factors, to consider those relations of nearer love: family and kin. God has designed us to have a special love for our own people, and this stronger love requires higher bars of wickedness in order to justify conscious hatred. The same is true for one’s family, friends, spouse, and other relationships. One should be far, far more longsuffering with one’s own than with a malicious stranger. Yet the same principle still obtains: a circumstantially sufficient degree of wickedness justifies (if not obligates) a given degree of hatred.
St. Paul himself acts according to this principle in his second epistle to Timothy. He curiously speaks of separate parties who both harmed him, yet only one receives an imprecation, the other a statement of longsuffering: “Alexander the coppersmith did me much evil: the Lord reward him according to his works. . . . At my first answer no man stood with me, but all men forsook me: I pray God that it may not be laid to their charge” (2 Tim. 4:14, 16). Alexander receives a clear denunciation, yet the others are granted a level of patience. Paul prays for God to dispense justice on the one and mercy on the others. This different treatment is, evidently, because Alexander’s ill behavior revealed a more deeply rooted resolution of evil within his character, whereas the other parties abandoned Paul out of moral weakness. A greater degree of evil characterized Alexander’s action; hence he received an imprecation, while Paul gave the others an expression of love and goodwill. Two parties wronged Paul; he prayed that the Lord would punish the first and absolve the second, with the only plausible difference being the heightened immorality of Alexander’s betrayal.
The practical application for this thesis accords well with the conceptual statement of the thesis itself. According to the thesis, which I posed as a harmonization of the biblical texts, we are to appropriately balance dispositions of love for all and holy hatred for sinners. And practically, we can recognize that the specific equilibrium established by these counterpoising dispositions entails a prima facie disposition of love and kindness, transformed into a disposition of hatred and scorn only by a sufficient degree of wickedness, according to the circumstances. Nothing about the thesis practically requires an ever-abiding disposition of ill will towards all others; rather the opposite. Hence this biblical harmonization is both conceptually and practicably coherent.
The mind of sinful man always seeks to rationalize his actions. Thus many would doubtlessly latch onto these principles of holy enmity in order to justify their bitter eagerness to delight in others’ suffering. They would retroactively purify their motives by pretending to rejoice solely in the providential justice displayed in their enemies’ downfall. Because of this tendency to rationalize, especially for such a murky topic as our souls’ motivations, all Christians should tread very carefully to avoid the easy evil of schadenfreude. We should refuse to gloat in others’ misfortunes, even as we honor the intrinsic goodness of praising God for the eternal incineration of our enemies (Rev. 19:1-3).
When reacting to others’ downfalls, we should follow the divine example: “For I have no pleasure in the death of him that dieth, saith the Lord God” (Ezek. 18:32). While there is indeed a certain sense in which we can take pleasure in the justice which executes evildoers, we should not take pleasure in others’ deaths as such; we ought to favor everyone else’s welfare as, ceteris paribus, superior to his suffering. We should ensure that any pleasure we take in others’ suffering arises solely from a principle of justice’s satisfaction, not from any unholy hatred which desires their suffering and rests there.
But this is simply to say that we should be careful to properly assess our motives, discriminating holy from unholy hatred with a suspicious eye, all the while not refusing to take pleasure in the display of righteous justice. Scripture sanctions the giving of praise for the just downfall of our enemies, after all: the Israelites, led by Moses, expressed great joy at the drowning of Pharaoh and his army (Ex. 15:4-5); various psalms praise God for enemies slain (e.g. Ps. 136:10-20; cf. Josh. 10:24-26); and Isaiah positively describes the Messiah as one who treads His enemies into a bloody mass of carnage and gore (Isa. 63:1-6). These examples are gruesome, but they are gruesome justice, and thus worthy of our admiration and praise. By being aware of the principled distinction between schadenfreude and righteous satisfaction, we should be better equipped to avoid the pitfalls on either side of the straight and narrow.
The Christian doctrine of authority entails that private individuals normatively lack the right to administer punishment, that is, to directly cause others’ suffering; but it is noteworthy to remark that the above demeanors, just vindicated, themselves involve a form of punishment—a type of social punishment which private individuals can legitimately execute. Suppose that a righteous man has been informed of a grave travesty committed in his town, say, a young girl’s molestation, rape, and murder at the hands of a local devil. His habitude of holy hatred incites him to desire this murderer’s just deserts, treating him with malice and enmity. “The Lord reward him according to his works,” he might pray, “along with the executioner.” If this righteous man interacts with the murderer at some point prior to his execution (or if his execution is unjustly remitted), we would entirely expect the righteous man’s indignation to suffuse their social interaction, causing discomfort and capitulation on the part of the murderer. But this social harming—this shunning, scorn, and disregard—is itself punitive. It is a sort of “social justice” with which the Almighty has endowed private individuals to act against sufficiently egregious sinners in society.15 Anyone who has experienced ostracism or other kinds of social rejection can easily attest to the suffering it causes. Yet if such actions are permissible manifestations of holy hatred—permissible means by which to intentionally decrease others’ well-being—then they are social punishments which can be executed by private individuals: merited by, and in proportion to, one’s sins. And a punishment which is executed on account of sin is to that extent retributive, a species of justice. (There would be no formal deliberation assigning punishment to crime, of course—these “punishments” would be spontaneous products of our social intercourse as we interact with those whom we deem egregious sinners—but the intrinsic connection between social pain and sin is irreducibly retributive nonetheless.) Hence the very animosity which private individuals would harbor towards sufficiently notorious sinners, and which would color all their interaction with them, is itself a social manifestation of the principle articulated earlier: that sin deserves misery, including the miseries of social alienation.
The administration of civil justice has deterrence as one of its principal ends (e.g. Deut. 13:11), yet it is fundamentally and primarily retributive, justified by the aggravating crime irrespective of any future benefits wrought by the inflicted penalties. The same is true of this “social justice.” Because sin intrinsically deserves misery, the social harms to be inflicted by a due manifestation of holy hatred locate their justification primarily in the sinfulness of the rejected party, not in the future flourishing which we expect to accrue from such ostracism. For example, in better times, women who followed their passions unto fornication and bastardy were shunned in polite society; the path of the fornicatress was not socially treated as morally equal (or morally superior) to the less noteworthy path of quiet chastity, and fornicatresses were accordingly shunned. Modern fans of such a practice will often seek to vindicate it by appealing solely to the future benefits wrought by such shunning: when fornicatresses are made to feel social pain, other girls contemplating such a course are motivated to reject it, thus decreasing the overall fornication, bastardy, and misery of society. But this justification for fornicatress-shunning is incomplete, in that it fails to regard the intrinsic connection between social punishments and sin, leading many to believe that such shunning is an unloving case where “the ends justify the means.” The primary justification for shunning is that sin intrinsically deserves pain—that sin can receive the retributive justice of social punishment—irrespective of whatever future benefits might emerge from such pain; the secondary justification is the societal benefits which social punishment would effect.16 (And given God’s harmonious design of human social interaction, we should expect a proper execution of retributive justice, including the social variety, to deter crime overall.)
Another example of this social display of retributive justice relates to the “bullying” of sodomites. Many an egalitarian has raised an outcry against the deleterious treatment which sodomites have faced in Western society, even as we have become more and more promiscuously tolerant of deviant sexual behavior. Whenever young men in high school mock another student for his perverse sexuality, the pro-sodomite crowd is sure to lament this latest instance of “bullying,” noting that everyone should love each other without regard to sexual or moral distinctions. However, while we should cede that there are limits to the degree of suffering which social punishment should aim to inflict—retributive justice always ought to link and proportion crime and punishment, and teenagers tend not to be concerned with this rational apportionment—nevertheless the ostracism and shame which accompany sexual perversions occur precisely because the “bullying” segment of society is operating as God has designed society to function, inflicting social punishments as an intrinsic sin-desert. Those who oppose the “bullying” of sodomites are kicking against the goads of human society as God has arranged it. Teenagers, of course, will be quite prone to cruelly mistreat homosexuals for the joy of the mockery, and hence an important distinction should be made between morally weak sufferers of sodomitic inclinations (worthy of longsuffering) and resolute sodomites who would flaunt it given the chance (worthy of derision). But at any rate, in all the factors surrounding these “bullying” situations, this one is clear: we are divinely designed to oppose grave evil with social punishments, sodomy is gravely evil, and hence sodomites are to receive social punishments.
Naturally the egalitarians, with a show of humanitarianism, will decry this practice as unconscionable. “Even if we morally disagree, can’t we agree not to hurt each other? Can’t Christians just get along with unbelievers, despite their moral disagreement?” Even some Christians will object to this teaching as unchristian and unaccommodating to those who reject Christ. Yet, after any excessive social animosity is admitted and corrected, the reply to this is to note, as an irreducible observation and brute fact, that actions which a society deems as sufficiently egregious will necessarily provoke social punishments; the only way to remove social punishments is to excise the entire conscience of the people. The egalitarians who request tolerance on this front, then, do not desire an indiscriminate lack of social animosity, but merely aim their own social (and other) punishments at those who transgress their false code of unforgivable sins. Any who show themselves guilty of such abominations as “racism,” “sexism,” and “homophobia” (especially “racism”) will inevitably receive the full force of retributive social justice which the multicult decries when this exact same principle of holy hatred is applied towards actual sins. People who believe that the average IQ of Africans is below the average IQ of Europeans will receive, at minimum, the suspicion and resentment which all normal people harbor towards real sinners. In the face of these faux-moral objections against “bullying,” the answer is not for social objectors to extinguish their conscientious reactions, but for sodomites and their ilk to cease their antinatural transgressions.
Let us, therefore, refrain from promoting the cultural Marxist, envy-fueled, white-guilting aberration of “social justice,” instead promoting a practice true to the name, whereby social deviants will be corrected with retributive inflictions of social pain. Let us imitate God not merely in His gracious longsuffering, but also in His being provoked to wrath by sin.
Any approbation of hatred, including some attempt at delineating the practical application of a holy hatred, will unavoidably encounter resistance from the modern sentimentalist church. Many will ask straightforwardly, WWJD? Or they will ask this same question in a more elegant and expansive way. The objection, roughly, is that Jesus would be far too kind to ever desire to inflict pain on others, social or otherwise, so that we can be confident that it would be sinful for us to do the same. But this chain of thought is, at root, nothing more than an intuitive bypassing of Scripture and reason, utilizing our intuitions, as conditioned by our anti-homophobic, multicultural, propagandized milieu, to ignore reason. If we can objectively deduce the moral permissibility and wisdom of certain dispositions and practices in our rational reflections upon Scripture, then we can definitively answer the posted question in the affirmative: yes, Jesus would advocate attitudes and practices of hatred in the right circumstances; otherwise His Spirit would not have inspired the psalmists to do so. Hence, if one wishes to prove us wrong, he must steer the discussion towards the falsity of our argumentation, rather than womanishly bypassing them with misguided intuitions.
Another argument, related closely to WWJD, is evangelistic: that acting towards anyone with hatred will clearly push him away from Jesus, whereas acting with love will be much more likely to draw him closer. In other words, acting with hatred decreases the number of souls we save, and this shows the general imprudence, if not immorality, of ever hating someone. But this argument fundamentally contains the same error as John Piper’s over-exaltation of human well-being: in principle, it heretically promotes human well-being as the highest moral end—for the maximization of human flourishing is not always conducive to a higher moral end, namely God’s glory—and in fact, it neglects to understand how aggregate human salvation would be affected by a given infliction of suffering. Too many people today vastly underestimate the aggregate evangelistic effects of old-fashioned hatred. When moral principle is staunchly and ferociously defended, wicked evildoers being severely opposed and socially punished, wickedness tends to lie more dormant, reducing scandal, and societal holiness improves, allowing the gospel to flourish. Moreover, the ones harmed by the wicked will feel particularly loved when Christians shed their cowardice and righteously oppose these wicked men. Even the direct objects of righteous derision may, in time, overcome their short-term humiliation to repent and submit to Christ, when they otherwise, if faced only by capitulating Christians, would have remained hardened in their unbelief. And when others witness a righteous severity in opposition to sufficiently egregious sins, they will more likely be fueled towards righteous ends by a holy hatred themselves. All of this can tend to increase our evangelistic productivity, improving the quantity and quality of converts.
The third and best objection has partly been addressed above: that Scripture clearly teaches our duty to love others, especially including those who sinfully persecute us unto our suffering and death (Matt. 5:44; Luke 23:34). Jesus grants that we naturally have a love for our own (Matt. 5:46-47), yet He offers a love for the stranger and the enemy as central to the ethic of the gospel, a supernatural morality. But if we are specifically commanded to love those whom we would be most inclined naturally to hate—our murderous persecutors—then what right have we to harbor dispositions of hatred toward anyone? If Jesus specified the most fitting targets of our hatred as those for whom we should entertain only thoughts and feelings of goodwill, then we could never permissibly hate anyone.
Besides that this would contradict the imprecatory psalms and place us back at square one, this objection has a more direct answer: our murderous persecutors are not necessarily the ones we would be most inclined naturally to hate; Jesus is not deeming the most hateworthy class of men as worthy to receive only acts of love. Consider Jesus’s own example. He prayed to the Father that the Roman soldiers slaying Him would be spared for their murder, yet throughout His whole ministry (and likely continuing throughout His passion) He harshly reviled the Jews whom He knew to be deicides at heart. Analogous to Paul’s later treatment of Alexander the coppersmith, Jesus recognized the profound saturation of sin within their souls, knowing their deeply-rooted evil motivations of character, and He accordingly treated them more caustically than those who acted in greater ignorance, those who “know not what they do.” This could be exactly parallel to our own persecutors. The kingdom of Satan operates in large part by deceptive propaganda, stoking the fires of persecution by enticing many to antichristian violence through the instrumentality of their ignorance. Those who persecute with a certain level of ignorance ought to receive our longsuffering and concern, whereas we shall pray for the wives of sufficiently self-conscious persecutors to be made widows.17
Love is willing the good of another; hatred is willing his suffering, and holy hatred is willing his suffering on account of sin. Love and holy hatred are two harmonious dispositions, whether situated in the mind of God or of the saint, and hence they can be expressed in different circumstances, even if they often cannot be expressed simultaneously. The summary of their practical harmony consists in a prima facie disposition of love and goodwill, which is counterpoised and then displaced by a disposition of hatred and enmity as sufficient evil circumstantially demands a contrary response. Difficulty will attend any attempt to codify how we are to act at all crossroads, but these principles can guide our conduct as we seek to apply practical wisdom to our varying affairs.
A proper understanding of hatred requires a robust, biblical conception of divine justice as retributive, not merely deterrent—where sin intrinsically incurs a debt of harm, punishable as an end in itself, and thus worthy of opprobrium in itself. Without this conception, the righteousness of holy hatred is indefensible and its practical applications mean-spirited, leading to sentimentalism, passivity, and pietistic cowardice. But with a proper conception of retributive justice, the practical applications of holy hatred, including imprecatory prayers, are thereby vindicated, bringing about greater holiness in society. May the church cease neglecting the imprecatory psalms which the Holy Spirit has seen fit to inspire, and may the same Spirit charge us with a spirit of holy indignation to oppose evildoers with righteous hatred.
2 Samuel 22
38 I have pursued mine enemies, and destroyed them; and turned not again until I had consumed them.
39 And I have consumed them, and wounded them, that they could not arise: yea, they are fallen under my feet.
40 For thou hast girded me with strength to battle: them that rose up against me hast thou subdued under me.
41 Thou hast also given me the necks of mine enemies, that I might destroy them that hate me.
42 They looked, but there was none to save; even unto the Lord, but he answered them not.
43 Then did I beat them as small as the dust of the earth, I did stamp them as the mire of the street, and did spread them abroad. . . .
48 It is God that avengeth me, and that bringeth down the people under me.
49 And that bringeth me forth from mine enemies: thou also hast lifted me up on high above them that rose up against me: thou hast delivered me from the violent man.
50 Therefore I will give thanks unto thee, O Lord, among the heathen, and I will sing praises unto thy name.
- Even then, supernatural grace is not the only source of moral inequality among men, for it is false that all unregenerates are morally equal. Unregenerates can still be the recipients of natural-moral blessings from God even while they lack the distinctly extraordinary and supernatural gift of regeneracy. The unregenerate who characteristically commits multiple acts of civic righteousness for his fellow men is superior to the child-rapist-murderer-sociopath who seems to embody all that is evil. Of course, we might say that all unregenerates are potentially able to morally decay to the worst of evils, in which case all are evil in that respect, yet the question is precisely whether unregenerates are actually of differing moral levels. ↩
- The most common examples for this are polygamy, divorce, and slavery. But slavery is clearly permitted in both testaments, and the other two, while they are more difficult to harmonize than the biblical texts on slavery, are still reconcilable—and even then, we would be far more justified in accepting agnosticism on how the various texts on a specific moral teaching cohere than to accept divine contradiction concerning the moral principles of marriage. ↩
- See also Matthew Henry and John Gill, who provide additional nuances in their reading of the verse. ↩
- We can also appeal to other arguments against (2), such as the unfittingness of any positive law which would forbid the handful of permissible imprecations. The ordinary purpose for “rule of thumb” positive laws, i.e. positive laws which absolutely forbid what moral principle alone preponderantly (but not absolutely) forbids, is when children, because of their incompetence to act with practical wisdom and their tendency to rationalize their peculiar situations as permissible, receive absolute prohibitions from their parents (for instance, parental commands to never run down the stairs). But we in the New Covenant are no longer a “church under age,” making such a strict removal of practical wisdom and deliberation to be extremely unfitting. ↩
- Surprisingly, William Lane Craig explicitly advocates this view. ↩
- This is Thomas Aquinas’s definition: see his Summa Theologica I-II, Quest. 26, Art. 4. ↩
- I would imagine that the inability of God to increase in well-being might be the central objection to my notion of love. The solution would be, frankly, that we can increase His “flourishing” in a certain analogical sense, namely, by glorifying Him—increasing His declarative (not essential) glory. This seems a perfectly reasonable way of construing our first and greatest commandment, especially in connection with the Shorter Catechism’s statement of our chief end. ↩
- This does not mean that all suffering occurs as a penal satisfaction for sin, for justified believers still undergo suffering in this life. Instead, I mean that all suffering occurs as a punishment within some sphere, whether legal or not; sufferings usually befall believers as paternal chastisements (Heb. 12:7-8), not as legal, vindicatory justice. ↩
- This is not to say, however, that all the suffering which any particular individual suffers is on account of his particular sins. Because of imputation, we can suffer penalties for others’ sins – not simply because we might be responsible for having influenced their ill behavior, but because it is fitting and just for certain penalties to be transferred between objectively related parties. The clearest instance of this is that Adam’s fall brought death (a punishment) to all mankind, in addition to all the other sufferings which characterize our cursed and fallen world. This universal cursedness brought by the fall helps to explain the suffering which seems to occur independently of an individual sin-penalty. ↩
- Also important, though not strictly relevant to this article, is that the obligation of holy hatred for sinners itself bears a certain requirement of holy violence against sinners. Jesus Himself connects the exterior act of murder with the interior sin of (unholy) hatred in Matt. 5:21-22, doing the same for adultery and lust in vv. 27-28. But this same principle, connecting exterior and interior, shows that the natural end of an interior disposition of holy hatred is the exterior action of holy violence. Of course, the most proper expression of this disposition is at the hands of God-ordained authorities acting according to the confines of their office, yet sufficient failure on these authorities’ part can permit a more decentralized administration of justice to flow forth. ↩
- R.L. Dabney, Systematic Theology, p. 530. For further discussion and application to soteriology, see also his “God’s Indiscriminate Proposals of Mercy.” ↩
- Summa Theologica II-II, Question 108, Article 1. ↩
- Dabney, “God’s Indiscriminate Proposals of Mercy” ↩
- Many would balk at the notion that hatred motivates any of the actions described, especially God’s treatment of believers and parents’ disciplining of their children. The more salient point is that these actions involve a clear infliction of suffering. The reason that “hatred” seems to be an inapt description of these inflictions of suffering is because hate is a very strong word, one which we tend to reserve only for solemn and sufficiently grave cases where we will another’s suffering. But strictly speaking, we can affirm that these are motivated by “hatred,” for they match the definition provided above, even if they do not match the common usage of the term. This is just as we don’t ordinarily use the term “love” to indicate any instance where we act for another’s flourishing, but only our very deep and serious desires for others’ well-being. ↩
- There is even a sense in which this private prerogative to administer social punishments is derived from the public, office-confined administration of justice. The propriety of a higher-level authority administering a punishment, such as a civil flogging or execution, directly requires individuals to desire that punishment to take place (apart from their own hands), but this desire for civil punishment necessarily alters private individuals’ social interactions to include the punishments of shunning and ostracism. If one wishes to see a man hang, any social interaction with that man will necessarily be altered. Even further, it might be argued that this private prerogative of social punishments derives solely from the justice of public punishments, for even when the private, social harms motivated by a holy hatred are executed upon individuals innocent of all crimes before a human tribunal, such harms are still aimed at those guilty of some wicked crime within the divine moral government. ↩
- The distinction here between the retributive and deterrent reasons for social punishment aligns well with the distinction between intrinsic and consequential reasons to oppose sins like miscegenation. For example, just as all instances of sodomy should be seen as immoral because of sodomy’s intrinsic conflict with our God-created design, irrespective of the consequential harms that a single instance of sodomy might bring about (e.g. STDs), so also the social punishment of various sins is justified by its intrinsic, retributive connection to the provoking sin, irrespective of the consequential benefits that such punishment might bring about. ↩
- As an additional point, it’s important to note that while Jesus taught the importance of loving our enemies, He did not teach an egalitarian love whereby we love our enemies and our own equally. The error He opposed was an insufficient love for one’s enemies—a complete lack of regard for their well-being—but it does not follow that the proper love for our enemies is equal in its nature and fervency to the loves we have for those closer to us. This anti-egalitarian point is important, because many unfortunately take Matthew 5:44-47 as teaching that we should love our enemies in the same way that we love our own—and since we ought to have nearly limitless longsuffering for our own, then practically speaking, we should never hate others. But Jesus is not teaching an equal love for the enemy as for the kinsman, only a proper love for the enemy which was theretofore suppressed. ↩