The Bible clearly speaks of God hating. As modern Christians, many of us recoil from that phrase. How can God hate? God is love, and love is the opposite of hate. Clearly, we want to say, God means something else entirely. Surely, it’s just a similar case to when the Bible speaks of God having a face, arms, feet, etc. In this case, no.
One of the driving rules of hermeneutics is to let the clear interpret the unclear. That works very well for when we speak of God having physical attributes. Jesus says “God is spirit and must be worshiped in spirit and truth” (John 4:24). He also makes it clear that a spirit has no flesh and bones (Luke 24:39). What then do we do with the passages in the Old Testament about God’s physical characteristics?
Those are examples of anthropomorphisms in Scripture. An anthropomorphism is when we attribute human attributes to something that is not human in order to make something understood. It is a type of figurative language. In this case, we speak of God using the earth as a footstool (Isaiah 66:1 quoted in Acts 7:49). We don’t think God is reclining on His throne with His feet on the earth (how, then, would it spin?). No, it’s a figure of speech. It has meaning, painting a word picture to show how powerful God is.
Similarly, since the clear statement is “God is spirit,” we can be sure that God does not have arms, legs, etc. However, we also know that He can appear to people taking human form.
But are God’s emotions in the same vein as God’s physical characteristics? Are those emotions anthropopathisms? That is, attributing human passions to the inhuman. For example, we might talk about our computer “wanting” to run slowly today. It doesn’t have that emotion, but we’ve used a figure of speech to say the computer is running slower than normal.
The problem with God’s hate is it makes us uncomfortable. However, if we make God’s hate merely an anthropopathism, then we have to make His love an anthropopathism as well. Some do along with His anger, jealousy, kindness, etc. But then you end up wondering what is left of God. They try to say that God’s emotions are merely figures of speech and shouldn’t be taken literally. That we need to read them in such a way as to learn some otherwise inexpressible truth about God. However, no logically valid argument can be construed that means His love is real while His hate is just an expression.
(I note with a wry chuckle that Compelling Truth’s definition of anthropomorphism lists only what they consider the negative emotions as anthropomorphisms. On the other hand, Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary places all His emotions under anthropopathisms. Even though they give no reason behind it, at least they are being consistent. The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament under the entry for saneh, speaks of God’s hatred as a real desire to separate from sinful people. Always, God’s hatred is directed towards sinful actions and people who are unrepentantly sinful.)
But what do we learn if God’s emotions aren’t real? Not much, honestly. Unlike His being spirit, there is no clear statement in Scripture that God has no emotions. If He doesn’t really love or really hate, then does He have any emotions?
Yes, He does. One does not destroy cities with fire and brimstone without emotion. One does not flood the world in an emotionless state. One does not send the Son to die on the cross without love. God is not a machine, computer, or robot reacting to inputs according to a predetermined matrix of outputs.
His love is like the love we have for one another except His is perfect while ours has been marred. For perfection is part of His unchangeable character, while our character has been defiled by sin.
His is a perfect love. Likewise, His hate is a perfect hate. To say that these emotions of God are not “really” what He means lessens Him and takes away from His power (He inspired the very words of Scripture yet used words that give the opposite understanding of His intention). It does not make Him more understandable to say His hate is expressed by merely the closest word in Hebrew or English and is actually something completely different. It makes Him alien to us.
No. God hates with a perfect hate. Because the emotions are real and comparable to ours, we can understand them. The love we have for each other is a picture of the perfect love God has for us. Likewise, the imperfect hate we feel shows us a little of what God feels when someone knowingly leads another astray.
Those who argue His hatred is alien to ours are little more than Gnostics, one of the first heresies within Christianity. (I contend that Marcion and the Nicolateans were at the very least protognostics if not the full-blown Gnostics.) They tried to reframe God not as Scripture revealed Him to be, but in the image of the Greek philosophers. They claimed that they knew better, that they had special knowledge making them more enlightened. Their very name means “having knowledge.” The gnostics believed that the physical body was inherently bad, and that God could never take on any aspect of it. Since God was perfect, an imperfect god must have created matter. Where did this imperfect god come from? It, called the demiurge, was created by the perfect, all-spirit God.
How do you relate to a god like that? He certainly isn’t the biblical portrayal. Likewise, saying that God does not experience emotions like ours contradicts the biblical record.
God hates just as clearly as He loves.