Does God hate anyone or anything???
What a profound question. Almost 13 year old Zack asked me that question some 25 years ago in a middle school youth group I was leading. That question and this particular young man has stayed with me all this time. I was facilitating a youth program called Rite 13 which is an incredible program for youth. As kids grow to the age of 13, we invite them into a church rite where they lead the congregation in prayers and we notice that they are no longer children but instead growing into young adults.
But back to the question: Does God hate anyone or anything?
Jesus uses that strong word of hate today in our Gospel reading and this week, talking with my priest colleagues whose Greek is better than mine, I learned that yes indeed the word hate is the right translation.
Does God hate anyone or anything? Zack asked. Zack lived next door to the church. He started coming to St Christopher’s with his bestie. Zack’s parents were ambivalent about Zack being at church, were sadly ambivalent about most things concerning their son. Both were on track in superstar careers and family was clearly not a priority for them. Zack loved his go-cart collection. He once boasted to me that one of his go-carts was worth more than my car. He was not exaggerating—I drove an old jalopy!
Does God hate?
Zack, that’s a really good question. What do you all think?
The middle school kids puzzled it out together. By the close of our time, we had decided that God didn’t HATE anyone but instead hated many things: bullying, unfair treatment of people that are different. God hates it when people are mean. God hates it when we hurt animals. God hates.
And so do we. Hate. What a big emotion. Hate is an all-consuming drive that has to be obsessively fed. Unlike love that is naturally generative and innate, hate is not spontaneous. Psychologists often say that hate and love can be closely connected. It’s odd how we use the words hate and love with great hyperbole. We hate salt bagels or we love them.
God created us as the Psalm says today wonderfully, marvelously. As one translation of this psalm says, “ I am fearfully wonderfully made”. We need to be cautious with our hate. We need to hate what God hates: injustice, racism, abuse of our beautiful creation. That emotion needs to be rooted in deep love for the good.
In Rite 13, the program culminates with the 13 year old teenagers coming before the congregation on a Sunday morning. Our 13 year olds processed in with their parents. They sat in the front with their family on one side of the church. Just opposite them on the other side, sat our high school kids. At the appointed moment, our 13 year olds came forward with parents. We had read the gospel lesson appointed for this rite—the one from Luke where Jesus is 12 and his parents lose track of him and after searching find him in the temple with others. Jesus is independent and has no idea he has worried his parents. All of us as parents understand the dynamic of our children differentiating from us. It is a painful lesson. I wonder if that’s why Jesus’s language about family is so strong today: is he talking about the pains of separation, of leaving the tribe?
With the young teens before us, we first prayed for the parents in their pain praying: Strengthen (these parents) that they may support their sons and daughters as they begin the journey toward adulthood. Uphold them by your Spirit, that they may comfort them although they can neither walk their road for them nor shield them from pain. Carry them all safely through this journey, so that one day they may stand together as adults and friends, a joy and a comfort to each other all the days of their lives.
Tears streamed down the faces of parents as our priest Jeff prayed these words. The parents of our 13 year olds went back to their pew leaving their teenaged children before the church to read a portion of Psalm 139, the Psalm we have for today. Our young teens giggled awkwardly about God seeing them being made in secret, knit together in their mother’s womb. Adult ideas that they were coming to know in fits and starts.
We then turned to our young teen’s older peers asking them to walk alongside these younger teens as companions and friends. The Rite ended with our 13 year olds going and sitting with their peers instead of their parents.
Wendell Berry in his beautiful poem, The Way of Pain, Berry writes:
For parents, the only way
is hard. We who give life
give pain. There is no help.
Yet we who give pain
give love; by pain we learn
the extremity of love.
Love is extreme as is hate. Jesus’s call to discipleship today reminds us that we need to know differentiation—separation yes even from our family. It is the cost of love. It is the cost of discipleship. It is the cost of following Jesus.
There was a moment beloved when I had hate in my heart that day of the Rite 13 celebration. And it was hate: enmity and deep sorrow. You see Zack’s parents were so busy that Sunday and did not see the importance of being with Zack at church. So while all of his friends were inside church dressed up in ties and sports jackets, girls in pretty dresses, Zack was outside the church driving his favorite go-cart around our church parking lot as fast as he could go and he was yelling.
My heart broke in that moment. God hated that moment for that young man as much as I did.
Does God hate? Does God’s heart break? Does God weep?
We are wonderfully fearfully made beloved, divinely infused with deep love, capable of hate, made to have our hearts broken. Made for a discipleship that costs us everything we have.
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