How to Define Hate

In Orwell’s novel 1984, Big Brother’s regime has a daily ritual called the “Two Minutes’ Hate,” where everyone stops and fires up their rage, then returns to what they were doing.

In the past five years, we have seen, not a Two-Minutes Hate, but a 24/7 hate conducted against the current US President. The hate never stops. It comes from many who claim to oppose hate, but have never looked in the mirror. Many of those who accuse the President of being full of hate have a log of hatred in their own eye.

Likewise, those like me who do not hate the President feel considerable animosity toward those who do hate him. Alas, when I say “animosity,” I fear I am playing word games, trying to weasel out of confessing my own hatred. Or am I? How do we define “hate”? To answer that, a Biblical word study on the word “hate” is in order.

The verb śanē’ is used 148 times in the Hebrew Bible. Most of the time, it simply means a strong dislike or opposition to a person or object (such as evil). The most instructive sound bite is Leviticus 19:17, which teaches, “You shall not hate your brother in your heart.” (Brother” here means blood relative, and since we are all blood relatives, we can extend this command to how we treat everyone.) The next verse completes the thought: “You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” This verse capsulizes what God wants us to do universally.

There are a few quirky exceptions to how this verb is used. In Genesis 29:31 and Deuteronomy 21:15, the verb is used to mean the relatively “unloved” spouse in cases where a man has more than one wife. This non-absolute meaning of the verb is helpful in making sense out of two additional otherwise thorny passages.

In Malachi 1:3, God says, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I have hated.” If we believe the whole Bible, including “God is love,” we must conclude that “hate” is being used here in a relative way. The same is true in Psalm 139:21-22, where David asks, “Do I not hate those who hate you, O Lord? And do I not loathe those who rise up against you? I hate them with complete hatred; they have become to me my enemies.”

The best I can do is to classify this as relative hatred. Leviticus 19:17 is the verse that teaches us how to do Psalm 139:21-22. Yes, we are to hate what God hates, including all kinds of evil, but we are to love people.

Relative hatred is the best way to explain Jesus’ thorniest use of the verb “hate.” In Luke 14:26, Jesus teaches that whoever does not “hate” their own parents, spouse, children, relatives, and even their own life “cannot be my disciple.” Jesus is calling us, not to despise our loved ones or our lives, but to love him more, like the relative love described in “No one can serve two masters,” where one cannot help but “hate the one and love the other” (Matthew 6:24).

The Greek verb miseō (as in “misogynist,” someone who hates women) is used 40 times in the New Testament. Central to Jesus’ teaching is Matthew 5:43-44, where Jesus rejects the idea that the command to love our neighbor leaves us free to “hate” our enemy. Instead, Jesus gives us sky-high teaching that meets all of the historical criteria of authenticity: “Love your enemies.”

According to Luke 6:27-29, loving our enemies includes doing good to those who hate us, blessing those who curse us, praying for those who mistreat us, and offering the other cheek to those who slap us, and more goods to those who rip us off. (I’m not sure if he would include providing a sword to those who would kill us.)

Love our enemies? You don’t have to like someone, to desire the best for them, to care about them. Apply the 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 test. Love is not “irritated” (paroxyntai). Love “does not calculate/keep a record of wrong” (logizetai), which is admittedly hard not to do in today’s political environment, where evidence for why we oppose someone is always demanded. We must cut others as much slack as we want them to cut for us.

Love “does not rejoice in wrong, but rejoices with the truth.” (Proverbs 24:17-18 says, “Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and do not let your heart be glad when he stumbles, or else the Lord will see it and be displeased and turn his anger away from him.”) Are we glad when the leader we oppose gives us another piece of skubalon to throw at him/her? Are we disheartened, or relieved, when that person is exonerated?

Love “bears all things, always trusts (has faith), always hopes, always endures.” Here we are pushing our finite human limits. But certainly hate can be measured by whether we always assume the worst or the best about the people we do not like. Hate can poison or distort what we hear, particularly what I call “Catch-22 Hate,” a hate that automatically condemns the person no matter what they do.

In Aboth de Rabbi Nathan (one of the rabbinic writings), a rabbi puts his followers to the test. He has them watch as he begins talking to a woman, takes her into a room and shuts the door, then comes out and takes a ritual bath. Then he asked them if he had done anything evil. They said no; for each questionable element of what they saw, they had a logical innocent explanation. Then the rabbi makes his point: “Always judge everyone with the scales weighted in their favor.”

The “F--- the Police!” crowd (and their supporters) have a lot of repentance to do before they can condemn anyone else for their hate. Someone who hates white people may do an unsurpassable job pointing out what’s wrong with us, but they will do a completely ineffective job persuading us to take it to heart.

We must all draw our own conclusions about the best policies for our nation, and who would do the best job implementing them. How morally “good” or “bad” a leader happens to be may not be the bottom line by which we should measure. (For my thoughts on that, see "God's Voting Record" and "Caesar and Today's Barabbas".) But by all means, let us not vote based on hate. Let us not vote for policies we know are bad, simply because we hate the person on the ballot who opposes them. Let us do our utmost not to read evil assumptions into what people say or do. Let us strive not to rejoice in the evil we hear about someone, but try to assume the best, not the worst.