This week's question asks about hatred. "In Malachi 1.3 it states that ' . . . Jacob I have loved and Esau I have hated.' How can this be so if God is a God of love and is in essence love itself? Only to argue the fact that God can hate people, it states in Psalm 5.5 that 'The arrogant cannot stand in your presence, you hate all who do wrong.' My question now would be: Does God hate sinners enough to send them to hell, or hate people in general?"
This is one of those two-part questions that will take some space to deal with. To begin answering the question, we first have to decide whether or not God can hate and what that means. Then, next week, we'll look at the hell question.
The word hate conjures up a variety of feelings within us. In general, hatred is one of those emotions we look askance at. Hatred is equated with evil, ugliness, and hurt. Most people define it as the opposite of love, which isn't really a bad definition, but seems to come up short when we weigh in with all the baggage the word carries with it. Webster defines hate as "to have strong dislike, or ill will for; loathe; despise." Someone who hates another conjures up images such as Pol Pot, Adolph Hitler, and the KKK. With images like these, it's no wonder we have problems linking hate with God.
Clearly, these definitions of hate fall at the far end of the love-hate continuum. But if the middle of that continuum is ambivalence, then everything to the left of center is a degree of hate.
Indeed, The New Bible Dictionary suggests that any preference on one over another implies a degree of hatred. So, in a sense, since I prefer chocolate ice cream over butter-pecan, I must hate butter-pecan - which seems a bit harsh to me. And yet, according to many biblical scholars, that's exactly what is implied in the Bible when the writers speaking of God hating this person or that action.
On the other hand, when we look to the passages where hatred is spoken of, it is clearly possible to see hate as the monstrosity we have come accustomed to. For instance, in Amos 5 we read a rather strong statement attributed to God:
I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals I will not look upon. Take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not listen to the melody of your harps. (5.21-23)
Clearly the linkage of hate with despise implies a bit more than simple preference. Further, in Proverbs 6.10 there is a list of sever things God hates, including pride, lying, and troublemakers. The biblical list of things God hates is broad and includes divorce (Malachi 2.16), idolatry (Deuteronomy 16.22), evil (Psalm 45.7, et al), and robbery and injustice (Isaiah 61.8) to name a few. According to the tenor of the scriptures, all of these are contrary to the commandments of loving God and loving our neighbors - each of these are antithesis to love.
Any being, or being itself, (i.e., God) whose essence is pure love cannot embrace evil as good, nor can it wink at bad behavior and motivation. And so it that God can hate. Although hatred seems to be a strong sentiment, just as oil and water cannot mix, neither does love and evil make good bedfellows. To embrace love is to hate evil.
So, can God hate? It clearly seems so. The scriptures give us a number of passages where God claims hatred of wickedness and of those who do evil. On the other hand, to hate evil and even to hate evildoers doesn't mean that God cannot simultaneously pine for the evildoer to turn from their ways and embrace justice. Indeed, to finish the Amos 5 passage we read God's call of hope, even after the strong word of hatred for their ill-begotten festivals: "But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream" (Amos 5.24).