What if the God you pledged your allegiance to and professed your love for suddenly became much different than you knew Him to be? What if, in one moment, you started to question everything you were taught about Him? What if a truth became so clear, you realized God was much bigger than the box you had put Him in? What if you learned something so great and so terrible that it caused you to physically bow before His invisible presence? That’s what happened to me when I saw Psalm 5.
It’s a troubling feeling—to realize that God is very different than what you have been told. Too many times we do not act like the Berean Jews in Acts 17 who, when they heard Paul speak, “received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.” Instead of checking the Scriptures about things we hear, we may find ourselves guilty of quickly accepting a teaching and even defending it until our last breath. But what would happen if we simply let the God-breathed Scriptures teach us about who God is? Would we even recognize the God we see in those pages?
Problem with the Premise
One of the most popular ways of simultaneously expressing God’s love and wrath is the statement, “God loves the sinner but hates the sin” (see Karl Heitman’s excellent article on this statement) For a long time, I accepted this premise and even used the expression many times myself. Then I read the Scriptures and found out my thoughts about God were not fully correct, and the premise I had clung to was anchored in man’s wishful thinking.
“For you are not a God who delights in wickedness; evil may not dwell with you. The boastful shall not stand before your eyes; you hate all evildoers,” (Psalm 5:4-5, ESV).
“You hate all evildoers.” Wait a minute. Just hold on a second. Is that right? God is love (1 John 4:16)! Yes, He is. He is perfect in His love, but He is also perfect in His righteousness, perfect in His holiness, perfect in His mercy; and yet He is perfect in His wrath, and perfect in His hate. God is love. But God hates. This isn’t the only time the psalmist says this. Psalm 11:5 states, “The Lord tests the righteous, but His soul hates the wicked and the one who loves violence.” The God of love has the capacity to hate and remain perfect in all His attributes. God hates, but who does He hate?
The Scriptures make it plain that God hates “evildoers,” the “wicked,” and the one who “loves violence.” The New King James Version translates the word “evildoer” in Psalm 5:5 as “workers of iniquity.” Who are these workers of iniquity? What have they done to merit God’s hatred?
Who Exactly Does God Hate?
We may be tempted to point to others, to the “really bad sinners,” and say they are the ones God hates. However, the word “iniquity” in the original language describes wickedness, unrighteousness, and vanity. It is a very generic term for sin. So, by being very general, the psalmist is not saying that God hates the ones who perform drastically wicked deeds; rather, he is stating that God hates those who practice sin in general. And who does that include? Doesn’t that include all of us? “You (God) hate all evildoers,” could properly be rendered, “God hates sinners.”
There are six things that the Lord hates, seven that are an abomination to Him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil, a false witness who breathes out lies, and one who sows discord among brothers. (Proverbs 6:16-19)
What we have to remember is that the eyes, tongue, hands, feet, and heart are not separate from the individual. They are controlled by the person. Therefore, it is not just the devices used to sin which God hates; His hatred is against the one controlling those devices. The writer makes this evident by saying God hates all individuals who are false witnesses (liars) and those who sow discord among others. So, this idea of God hating people is not a new idea, nor is it foreign to the Scriptures. Perhaps we never thought about it, or we didn’t want to think about it. Or maybe we agreed with the concept, but quickly thought that God’s hatred could never be toward us. Most believers forget they were haters of God at one point, or even realize that God rightly hated them.
How is it then, that all of us could be hated by God and yet, in love, He chose some before the foundation of the world that they should be holy and blameless before Him (Ephesians 1:4)? I would submit that these are not two opposing thoughts. As Spurgeon once said concerning another doctrine which seemed to have two opposing facets, “You do not have to reconcile friends.”
What About God’s Eternal Love?
Some may pause at the idea of God’s past hatred of present believers because of His love for the elect. Certainly, there is an eternal love God has for those He has chosen. Paul speaks about how God “foreknew” us, referring to a love relationship (Romans 8:29). This relationship is eternal in its nature, established before time began. While this is the eternal perspective, there is also a temporal or “time constrained” perspective. God (who is outside of time) created time, and He works in the time He created. This “constraint” of time is the reality in which we live; it is what we consciously experience. Therefore, at one point in the time we have experienced, we hated God and His hatred was directed towards us. His bow was bent towards us, but by His grace, we repented (Psalm 7:12-13).
Also, His election of us was not simply according to His love, it was according to His will (Ephesians 1:5, 11; Romans 9:18; John 1:13; 2 Timothy 1:9). What this shows is that God is perfect in all His attributes throughout time and outside of time. Therefore, we cannot separate God’s attributes from His person, nor can we separate His attributes from one another. He is perfect, and this is how He can have an eternal love for us yet still have a hatred for us which required the death of His Son to be our wrath-bearer.
There is None Righteous
Is there anyone righteous (Romans 3:10)? Haven’t we all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23)? What is the fate of evildoers, of sinners? Evildoers will perish. Jesus makes this clear when he states in Luke 13:27, “Depart from me, all you workers of evil!” His judgment against those who are condemned already, is sure (John 3:18). What we must recognize is that when He judges, He disposes the individuals, not just their sin. Individuals and their deeds are intertwined (hang on to this thought).
Knowing that God hates all workers of iniquity, all sinners, yet He sent His Son to die for His people, is what makes His love incomprehensible and turns grace into amazing grace.
“For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:6-8)
We in no way deserve His love, nor are we entitled to it. In spite of the wrath justly due us, God loved us to the point that He gave His Son to die for us—His enemies (Romans 5:10), the workers of iniquity, the ones He hated—that we should become His own children. We deserve nothing but His eternal anger and wrath, yet there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ (Romans 8:1). How does this happen? How is this accomplished? He does this not by just dealing with our sin, but with us.
From the Object of Hate to the Object of Love
Remember how the individual and his deeds are intertwined? God did not just cast our sin away. There had to be a payment for it. Christ was our wrath-bearer, our propitiation. He cancelled “the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This He set aside, nailing it to the cross” (Colossians 2:13-14). This was our sin, but what about us? Because the sin and the individual are intertwined, our sin was not the only thing nailed to the cross. We can say with Paul, “I have been crucified with Christ,” (Galatians 2:20) and that we are “new creatures” (2 Corinthians 5:17).
God hates sinners. It sounds horrible, but it is true. Yet, the love of God is so great that Christ died, not just for the ones He loved, but for those He hated. Isn’t this a greater truth? How humbling it is to know that I was an enemy of God, and hatred for Him filled my heart. Yet even more humbling is that He hated me, but in His mercy He loved me, chose me, died and rose for me, and made me His own in order to have me forever.