Are you grappling with a difficult verse in the Bible? And are you looking for a short, easy-to-read answer that really makes sense without explaining away the verse? Visit this page for a daily excerpt from IVP's Hard Saying series.
How can a God of love and mercy be categorized as one who hates? Yet this verse (as well as Psalm 11:5) clearly affirms that God does hate wrongdoers, the wicked and all who love violence. What makes such a strong contrast possible?
Scriptural talk about God's hatred involves an idiom that does not suggest a desire of revenge. Why would God feel any need for getting even, when he is God?
Our problem with any description of God's displeasure with sin, unrighteousness or wickedness is that we define all anger as Aristotle defined it: "the desire for retaliation." With such a definition of anger goes the concept of anger and hatred of sin as a "brief madness" or "an uneasiness or discomposure of the mind, upon receipt of an injury, with the purpose of revenge." All such notions of hatred, anger and displeasure in the divine being are wide of the mark and fail to address the issues involved. Better is the definition of the third-century church father Lactantius: anger is "a motion of the soul rousing itself to curb sin."
The problem is that anger can be dangerously close to evil when it is left unchecked and without control. Who could charge God with any of these common human faults? Thus we often object upon being told that God is angry with our sin and that he absolutely hates wrongdoing, violence and sin. Our concept of anger and our experiences with it have all too frequently involved loss of control, impulsiveness and sometimes temporary derangement. No wonder no one wants to link those kinds of thoughts with God!
But God's anger toward sin is never explosive, unreasonable or unexplainable. It is never a force that controls him or a ruling passion; rather, it always remains an instrument of his will. His anger has not, therefore, shut off his compassion (Ps 77:9).
Instead, God's anger marks the end of indifference. He cannot and will not remain neutral and impassive in the presence of injustice, violence or any other sin. While God delights in doing good to his creatures (Jer 32:41) rather than expressing evil, he will unleash his anger and wrath against all sin. Yet Scripture pictures his anger as lasting only for a moment, in contrast to his love, which is much more enduring (Ps 30:5). His love remains (Jer 31:3; Hos 2:19), while his anger passes quickly (Is 26:20; 54:7-8; 57:16-19).
Passions are not in themselves evil. Kept under control, they are avenues of virtue. And our Lord is not without emotions just because he is God. In fact, divine anger (ira Dei) has been sharply debated in the history of the church as the question of divine passibility (that is, God's capacity to feel, suffer or become angry) versus his impassibility (imperviousness to emotion). Teachings issuing from Gnosticism (a philosophy that combined Greek and Eastern ideas with Christian teaching) forced the church to develop a doctrine of divine passibility--that God could indeed experience feelings, suffer, and be angry.
One Gnostic best known for his view that God never took offense, was never angry and remained entirely apathetic was Marcion. Marcion was expelled from the church and his doctrines were anathematized in A.D. 144. Tertullian, one of the church fathers, tried to answer Marcion on this point in his work Against Marcion,but he unfortunately concluded that God the Father was impassible while the Son was passible and irascible--that is, able to exercise anger. Tertullian, at this point, was more Platonic than scriptural. In the last half of the third century Lactantius wrote De Ira Dei (The Anger of God), arguing that passions and emotions were not bad in and of themselves. What was evil was not being angry in the presence of sin! Nonetheless, other church fathers, Thomas Aquinas and the Protestant Reformers all taught impassibility. Only in the last two centuries has impassibility been challenged again on biblical grounds.
God's hatred of evil is not some arbitrary force, striking where and when it wishes without any rhyme or reason. Instead, his anger against sin is measured and controlled by his love and his justice. Expressions of his outrage against the evil perpetrated on earth are actually signals that he continues to care deeply about us mortals and about our good.