Thursday, June 25, 2015

On Being Hated

So an interesting thought occurred to me the other day: if you are alive and you identify with any kind of group, you are going to be hated. I started listing in my mind different groups of people and the other groups that hate them (Note I am definitely generalizing here. Not all people in these groups will hate the people in the other groups. But if any do, I counted it). Here's a partial list:

Christians: Atheists, Agnostics, Politicians
Atheists: Christians, Politicians
Agnostics: Christians, Atheists
Muslims: Christians, Atheists
African Americans: Any other race
White Americans: Any other race
Mexican Americans: Any other race
Those who breastfeed: Those who don't breastfeed
Those who formula feed: Those who breastfeed
Vegans: Meat eaters, Vegetarians
Vegetarians: Meat eaters, Vegans
Meat Eaters: Vegetarians, Vegans

You get the point. I could go on forever. This list is in no way exhaustive. Think of any group and there will be another group that hates them. And Christians, unfortunately, are not exempt from being on the hate bandwagon, whether on the giving or receiving end.

It's like somehow hate is part of human DNA, that we can't get away from it and are born hardwired to hate. Hum...Let's see. Perhaps that's because sin actually exists. Actually, there is no perhaps about it. Sin exists. And where sin exists, hate will, too.

When I teach about Genesis and the Fall, I have students list out what relationships broke down in the garden. We come up with five: God's relationship with man, man's relationship with man, man's relationship with himself, man's relationship with nature, nature's relationship with nature. When sin became entwined in the nature of man, man's relationship with man was broken. That means that hating each other is an inevitable result of sin. What is the next sin we see played out in the Bible after Adam and Eve disobeyed God? Cain getting jealous and killing Abel. In case we missed it, the Bible makes it clear: sin causes men to hate each other.

So what does this mean for Christians? Let's start with the receiving end. Christian, you will be hated. It shouldn't come as a shock that we are hated. Sin exists so we will be hated. Even Jesus made this fact clear: "If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A slave is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you" (John 15:18-20). Jesus was no stranger to being hated. Who hated him? Pharisees, Sadducees, Teachers of the Law, Romans, synagogue congregations, people of his hometown and more. We are not greater than our master. He was hated and we are hated.

So if we will be hated, what should we do about that? First, expect it. When the next news article denigrates Christians or that blog out there eviscerates us or a fellow believer is thrown in prison for belief or a martyr is murdered, don't be shocked. This is the way of the world. Peter says about being persecuted as Christians, "Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you" (1 Peter 4:12-14). Peter actually tells us to stop being surprised by the hate since it isn't in any way strange and instead rejoice. Rejoice! Rejoice because you have so identified with Christ that people can't stand you because they can't stand him.

Second, be careful how you respond to being hated. Christians should not respond to hate by hating back. Let's turn to our hated master again. Jesus says, "You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others?" (Matthew 5:43-48). Jesus tells us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. Our response to being hated should be to love the haters. Pray for the haters. Treat them with kindness (Matthew 5:38-42). Answer them with gentleness and respect (1 Peter 3:15). The Bible doesn't say to rage and yell and burn inside with hate in response to being hated. In fact, it says that those who hate live in the dark: "But the one who hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going because the darkness has blinded his eyes" (1 John 2:11).

Some people might challenge this saying that Jesus lectured the Pharisees or took a whip to the money changers in the temple. Then how do you reconcile these facts with Jesus' words above? Was he lying? He wasn't lying. Jesus did lecture the Pharisees. But to what purpose? First, if you read Matthew 23, it is clear Jesus is confronting the Pharisees' hypocrisy. Before he launches into his lecture, he says, "So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach." When the Pharisees preached scripture, guess what? They were right. Thus, Jesus says to do what they tell you. But he says you should not do what they do because they don't practice the scripture. They were religious hypocrites. They were leading the people astray by being bad examples of living out scripture. Jesus is addressing their hypocrisy. Second, Jesus wants them to be saved! "You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell? Therefore I am sending you prophets and sages and teachers. Some of them you will kill and crucify; others you will flog in your synagogues and pursue from town to town." Jesus is sending prophets and sages and teachers to provide an escape for the Pharisees from hell. And sadly, the Pharisees will reject those sent to save their very souls. Jesus doesn't lecture the Pharisees because he hates them. Jesus loved them. He wanted them to be saved. But they would not hear. They would not change their hypocritical ways and they destroyed those sent to help them. Jesus laments, "Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing." How his heart longs to gather the Pharisees lovingly into his protective arms!

Christian, is this what you long for in regards to the haters? Do you want to bring them into your arms as a brother or sister? Do you long for their salvation and escape from sin? Or are you just affronted and angry about being hated? Jesus longs for the reconciliation of those who hate him and our heart should reflect his heart.

What about the temple? "Jesus entered the temple courts and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves. 'It is written,' he said to them, 'My house will be called a house of prayer,' but you are making it a den of robbers'" (Matthew 21:12-13). Nothing here says that Jesus hated the merchants. Nothing here says that the merchants hated Jesus and since they hated him he decided to hate them back. That is not what is happening here. This is Jesus in his own house. His house has been personally invaded. And interestingly, it's been invaded by hypocrisy, the same problem of the Pharisees. A place meant for prayer and worship had been turned into a place to make money. Money was being drained from worshippers in the guise of religious obedience. This is Jesus cleaning out his house and making it clear that the temple is not a place to worship money or to extort worshippers but a place to come to God Almighty no matter how rich or poor you are. Jesus cleaning out the temple is not about hating those who hated him.

Finally, 1 Peter 4 goes on to say, "If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler." We are blessed when hated because we identify with Christ. We are not blessed if we suffer for being criminal--including meddling! Peter actually says we shouldn't consider suffering for getting involved in affairs not belonging to us to be suffering for Christ. We are not blessed if we suffer for ranting about the haters, insulting them, or laughing derisively at them. If these actions cause us suffering, it is suffering deserved. 

My favorite movie about Jesus is Ben-Hur. It's a unique movie because its subtitle is A Tale of the Christ. Yet we never see Jesus' face and the majority of the movie follows Ben-Hur. How is it about the Christ? Because it is a story of how Jesus transforms us. It's about how he takes our hate and replaces it with a heart of love. Ben-Hur is a man eaten up by hate. Esther, his love interest, laments this at one point saying, "It was Judah Ben-Hur I loved. What has become of him? You seem to be now the very thing you set out to destroy. Giving evil for evil. Hatred is turning you to stone." Christian, are you the very thing you claim to hate? Are you a hater hating your haters? Esther says as well, "I know there is a law in life, that blood begets more blood as dog begets dog. Death generates death, as the vulture breeds the vulture! But the voice I heard today on the hill said, 'Love your enemy. Do good to those who do spitefully use you.'" Hate begets hate. Hate doesn't turn into love. Hating your enemies will not expose them to the love of God.

What happens to Ben-Hur? He sees the cross and speaks a line that causes me to tear up every time: "Almost at the moment He died, I heard Him say, 'Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do'...And I felt His voice take the sword out of my hand." Let us look to our master, he who asked his father to forgive those who hated him, those who in their ignorance killed the one sent to save them. Let us let his voice take the swords out of our hands.

For more on this, including what we should hate, check out this link: What Does the Bible Say About Hate?