Hate, A Neglected Christian Virtue & Prayer

Hate doesn’t normally come up in the list of Christian virtues. But it should.

We are to hate what is evil. This is a command, and a neglected one at that. God through the prophet Amos called his people to: “Hate evil, love good; maintain justice in the courts” (Amos 5:15). Notice how hating evil relates to justice. Justice requires hating injustice. There is no passivity here. Evil is not to be tolerated. It is to be hated. So much for tolerance.

We must pray our hate.

Now, this is Old Testament stuff, right? No. It is for the Christian. In fact, hate follows love. Paul knew this connection well. He could speak of love in one sentence and in the very next one mention hate: “Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good” (Romans 12:9).

Christians are not to take the sword. Jesus told Peter to put his away. However, Christians are still called to hate. If you are like me, you’ve experienced a desensitizing of evil. We can blame TV or video games. Or we can blame it on overly optimistic, smiley-faced, sentimental Christianity. But fundamentally we can blame a low view of God.

We don’t hate like we should because we don’t love like we should. To love God, as he is revealed in Scripture, is to love a God of justice and a God who will one day punish his enemies and banish the curse from the new heavens and earth wherever it may lay. Hatred of evil requires delight in the justice of God—both his restorative justice and his retributive justice. Evangelicals are giddy on the restorative justice of God—and we should be—but we tend to ignore his retributive justice. We love little and hate little because we ignore God in his fullness, especially his holiness.

We don’t hate like we should because we don’t love like we should.

I started thinking about this in reading Psalm 139 and how David prays his hate. This Psalm is usually taught in Sunday School, but we make sure to edit out all that slaying and hating enemies stuff near the end of the Psalm. We like the very end. The just me and God part, but not the speaking out on matters of public injustice part.

We are to hate all that God hates, not just what the world wants us to hate. Our society hates environmental injustice and hates racial injustice, and we should do the same. But we must go further and not remain silent on other things that God hates. We tend to want justice for giraffes more than we do unborn human embryos–which this Psalm says, God himself spends time carefully knitting together (119:15-16). So we must acquire a hatred given by God and not just by culture. We must pray for the hate we do not feel.

We must pray for the hate we do not feel.

In some ways, though it must be said with proper nuance, we hate too little and demonstrate that we do not love enough. The Psalms don’t let us do this. Psalmists like David cry out regularly for evildoers to be brought to justice. Complacency is far removed from the songs of these worshippers. They hate that there are victims in the world and that injustice seems to reign. Eugene Peterson, in Answering God: The Psalms as Tools for Prayer, writes,

Just as hurt is the usual human experience that brings us to our knees praying for help, provoking the realization that we need God, so hate is frequently the human experience that brings us to our feet praying for justice, catalyzing our concern for the terrible violations against life all around us. Hate is often the first sign that we care. If we are far gone in complacency, it is often the only emotion with enough velocity to penetrate our protective smugness and draw red blood…

Hate, prayed, takes our lives to bedrock where the foundations of justice are being laid. (99-100, 101).

We must pray our hate. What else are you going to do with it? One of the reasons prayer is impotent is because we sanitize what we say to God. But he can handle it. We think a high view of the sovereignty of God, means a passive, emotionless, stoic prayer. It doesn’t. Psalm 139 demonstrates this: David knows all his days were planned by God before they happened in verse 16 and yet he channels his hate in prayer in verses 19-22.

Now, you pray yours. Pray your hate.

We can talk theodicy, but do we pray it? Enough of philosophizing and theologizing alone.

Don’t vent it on other people, but vent it on God. We can theologize about the problem of evil, but we should also pray about this problem. Part of the prayer of the kingdom is praying our hate. Asking for the Father’s kingdom to come, implies the demolishing of the kingdoms of this world.

Anger at the state of the world, even anger at God, is expressed in the Psalms (and Prophets). There is a wrestling with God that needs to characterize more of Christian prayer. We can talk theodicy, but do we pray it? Enough of philosophizing and theologizing alone. True prayer does more than think. It emotes and feels. The Psalms liberate us to be human and teach us to pray the way we should. They show us what the relationship of God with believers who have gone before us looked like.

Finally, our hate must also be gospel-shaped. One thing we learn is that God came as a man in the person of Jesus of Nazareth to die for his enemies. Jesus was slain in the place of the wicked. Therefore we love victims by hating what victimized them–naming and identifying evil personally and publicly–but we also pray for the salvation of perpetrators. Jesus prayed for the forgiveness of the perpetrators that crucified him, and we should pray for those who have victimized us and ones we love. We love our neighbors and we love God in his holy justice by telling the ungodly the good news of the cross—where divine love and justice kiss—and abhorring the evil that creates victims of all kinds and crucified our sinless Savior. Christians hate evil and like their Savior love their enemies even in the face of their own death.

So Christian, pray your hatred and remember genuine Christian love hates.

The Terrible Mistake of Starting Prayer with Confession

The following quotation was taken from a helpful interview (listen to this 27 minute interview!) of New Frontiers leader Terry Virgo by Mike Reeves:

Some people say when you start to pray begin confessing your sin to clear the decks. I think that’s a terrible mistake because once I get sin-centered when I pray I think the devil is standing just behind me…I think the Devil would say “how’d you do this? how’d you do that?” and so you know you just get more and more oppressed by failure.

We need forgiveness. But if we start with sin, it might sound good because it clears the decks, but I find it clutters me up. I want to come aware of my Father. Aware of how good he is. How kind. How gracious. I’ll use the Lord Prayer as a kind of structure. I’ll go through it as a kind of headings. But I start God-conscious. Start thankful. I just find that warms my heart.

Terry frames this idea with Psalm 100:4 where the Psalmist writes:

Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him; bless his name.

Another encouraging text that I find gives a biblical framework for this is found in Ephesian 3:11-12, where Paul writes,

This was according to the eternal purpose that [God the Father] has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him.

Boldness and confidence in prayer starts with the Father’s eternal purpose of grace realized in the person and work of Jesus. It starts with something God has done for you, not something you have done or not done for God. By all means, we should confess sin while we pray, but start with thankfulness and praise in what God has done–not what you have done.

A Tenderhearted Man

Tenderhearted.

The week of my 33rd birthday, now just a few weeks past, I felt particularly drawn to this phrase. In fact, I believe this year, I am to pray, in the power of the Spirit, this reality into myself and into my family.

No one becomes tenderhearted without prayer, because being a tenderhearted person is impossible. It is the work of the Holy Spirit. Soft hearts are not made by men, they are born by God through the new birth. And being created by the Spirit they can only be cultivated by the Spirit as well.

We hear from history of lionhearted men, but not often do we hear of tenderhearted men

The Greek Lexicon’s define tenderheartedness as compassionate. In Greek medicine tenderheartedness referred to having healthy bowels, which exposes the utterly personal inner-ness and surety of being externalized background for the word. Ray Ortlund spoke of it in this way: “It seems inescapable that this word describes a certain emotional tone, a softness of disposition, a heart that feels for others.” Tenderheartedness demands emotion, as it is not a cognitive attribute, but lies at the core of one’s heart and visibly overflows to others. In the New Testament the word is used twice demonstrating that a tenderhearted man is a kind, forgiving (Eph. 4:32), and humble man (1 Pe. 3:8).

Defining it is difficult, living it is harder, but it can only be properly defined by being lived. Therefore its easiest to point to a person. We hear from history of lionhearted men, but not often do we hear of tenderhearted men. Yet there was One.

The ultimate man of the tender-heart was Jesus. If King Richard of England had the lionheart, King Jesus had the tenderheart. Compassion was Jesus’ most distinct emotion in his earthly ministry, and forgiveness thundered from the cross louder than the hammered nails that hung him there. Humility characterized everything he did, as he came from the glory of heaven to the sin-cursed earth to serve and save sin-filled humanity. Jesus embodies and models the man of the tenderheart.

Being a hard man is easy. Sometimes the fact that life is hard, work is frustrating, marriage is difficult, and death is coming causes hardness to callous the heart. But this is not as it should be. Life, marriage, family, work, and death when shaped by the Spirit can make soft-light-tender-hearted men.

Using the example of marriage, Jesus himself said that the reason why marriage is hard and divorce exists is because the men that get married are hard-hearted (Mt. 19:8). Therefore marriage is a perfect place to find that you are not naturally tenderhearted, and when redeemed by Jesus is an ideal place to cultivate softheartedness. One of the reason marriage exists is to make men’s hearts soft and tender not hard and harsh.

This is what I strive to be in every area of my life. Being a man is a call to be soft, pliable and tender or to say it differently humble, forgiving, and compassionate. May God raise up more men in the church that when dead have the following listed on their tombstone:

Here lies ____________ the tenderhearted.

Experiencing Jesus-Sized Joy

In Jesus’ prayer to his Father in John 17, he makes a connection between the things he says and the joy of those who trust him.

“…these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves.” (Jn. 17:13)

Strikingly, he prays that believers will experience his own joy. Jesus’ desire is that his followers have Jesus-sized joy, and his words are instrumental to their own experience of his joy. Whether or not the ‘these things’ Jesus are referring to is the whole Farewell Discourse (Jn. 14-17) or this prayer itself (Jn. 17), the aim of Jesus’ words is to bring his followers into joy.

Jesus’ desire is that his followers have Jesus-sized joy, and his words are instrumental to their own experience of his joy.

Martyn Lloyd-Jones gives some practical suggestions to how believers may have this joy. He states,

There are many Christian people who spend the whole of their lives looking at their own feelings and always taking their own spiritual pulse, their own spiritual temperature. Of course, they never find it satisfactory, and because of that they are miserable and unhappy, moaning and groaning. Now that is wrong. First and foremost we must avoid concentrating on our own feelings. We must learn to concentrate positively on ‘these things’. In other words, the secret of joy is the practice of meditation–that is the way to have this joy of the Lord. We must meditate upon him, upon what he is, what he has done, his love to us and upon God’s care for us who are his people. The Assurance of Salvation, (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2000), 305-306.

Vacation, Sabbath, and Guest Bloggers

Since I’m heading for some much needed vacation with the fam, I thought a few comments on Sabbath and rest were in order. I know Sabbath is biblical and necessary because even God rested and because he commands it and gave it as a gift for those made in his image, but I still haven’t got down exactly how this practically works.

We would play and we would pray.

Do you just watch TV? Do you go on a walk in the woods? Do you pray all day? Do you write? Do you eat an overwhelming amount of donuts? A mix of all 5? I’m not sure, but I thought Eugene Peterson’s comments regarding this topic in an 2005 interview were helpful:

We defined our Sabbath this way: we could do anything, but nothing that was necessary. We would play and we would pray. Anything under the category of play was legitimate; anything in the category of pray was legitimate.

So, pray and play. That sounds good.

I also plan on doing some life-planning, but most of all I want to hang with my wife, baby boy still enwombed, toddler-baby Grace, the Trinity, and enjoy books, sun, and beach.

The blog will still have posts periodically, as I have some guest bloggers who have kindly agreed to do some postings while I’m gone. So do check in from time to time the next couple weeks.

Another Jaw-Dropping Purpose of John 17

John 17 is one of the most mind-blowing chapters in the Bible. The reader gets a snapshot of the intimate relationship between Jesus and his Father. However, that is not the only purpose of the prayer in this passage, D. A. Carson points out another:

“This prayer demonstrates the depth of Jesus’ communion with his Father, and this constitutes a paradigm for the intimate relationship with the Father that the disciples themselves will come to enjoy.” The Gospel According to John, PNTC (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1991), 564

I mentioned in a previous post that believer’s are invited into a measure of the kind of relationship that Jesus has with his Father, and John 17 functions as a paradigm as to what that can look like. Yes, be amazed at God the Son and God the Father’s joyful eternal relationship, but don’t stop there. Discover the jaw-dropping truth that those who trust Jesus are invited to enjoy that kind of experience and communion with the Father.

Stunning.

Evil Men, Moralism, Hate, & Prayer

In light of the killing of Osama Bin Laden and thinking about the Christian response to it, evil men in general, and evil itself, I thought some meditations from Eugene Peterson on prayer and the imprecatory Psalms would be helpful:

We have been brought up, most of us, interpreting what is wrong in the world on a grid of moralism. Moralism trains us in making cool, detached judgments. Deep down, the moralist suspects that there are no, or at least not very many, real victims. People get what is coming to them. In the long run people reap what they sow. The rape victim, the unemployed, the emotionally ill, the prisoner, the refugee–if we were privy to all the details we would see that, in fact, ‘they asked for it.’

The Psalms will have none of this. The Psalms assume a moral structure to life, but their main work is not to train us in judgmental moralism but to grapple with evil. Their praying insights have identified an enemy and they respond in outrage. They hate what they see. On behalf of all the dispossessed, the mocked, the dehumanized of the earth they pour into the ears of God their sightings of the enemy, not ‘siphoning off hate, but channeling it in effective ways, in covenantal shapes.’

This hate arised in a context of holiness: meditating on the holy word of God, expecting the holy messiah of God…immersed by prayer in this holiness, we see clearly what we never saw before, the utter and terrible sacrilege of enemies who violate the good of creation, who brutalize women and men who are made, every one them in the image of God. There is an enormous amount of suffering epidemic in the world because of evil people. The rape and pillage are so well concealed in polite language and courteous conventions that some people can go years without seeing it. And we ourselves do not see it. But now we see it. And we hate it. We are rejected from our cushioned private religion into solidarity with ‘the Silent Servants of the Used, Abused and Utterly Screwed up.’

Just as hurt is the usual human experience that brings us to our knees praying for help, provoking the realization that we need God, so hate is frequently the human experience that brings us to our feet praying for justice, catalyzing our concern for the terrible violations against life all around us. Hate is often the first sign that we care. If we are far gone in complacency, it is the only emotion with enough velocity to penetrate our protective smugness and draw red blood. That does not mean that prayer legitimizes hate–it uses it. ‘Surely the wrath of men shall praise thee’ (Psalm 76:10)…

It is easy to be honest before God with our hallelujahs; it is somewhat more difficult to be honest in our hurts; it is nearly impossible to be honest before God in the dark emotions of our hate…We must pray who we actually are, not who we think we should be. In prayer, all is not sweetness and light. The way of prayer is not to cover our unlovely emotions that they will appear respectable, but expose them so that they can be enlisted in the work of the kingdom…Hate, prayed, takes our lives to bedrock where the foundations of justice are being laid.” [Answering God: The Psalms as Tools for Prayer (San Francisco, CA: Harper, 1989), 99, 100, 101.]