Hatred, Holy

On Modern Emotional Pietism

“Dramatic displays of resentment, radicalism, and racism like those we have witnessed in recent years reflect deep convictions that are neither marginal nor novel to American culture. Rather, they reflect a kind of warped Christian religiosity that is intrinsically American.”

The above words are from John Fanestil’s American Heresy: The Roots and Reach of White Christian Nationalism. Fanestil supposes the “deep convictions” of January 6 protestors show themselves in the form of a “resentment” that reflects a Christianity which, in his mind, is dilapidated in some way or another. It isn’t clear if Fanestil categorizes this brand of Christianity as such because it produces resentment, or, because the emotion is produced by white people that just so happen to be Christian. Nonetheless, droves of American Christians, he says, have fallen prey to this inclination. That is, hostile emotions like resentment, hate, or what-have-you which are allegedly sinful when directed towards the objects that excite them: the wicked, the sinner. You can burn with hatred when wicked people do wicked things, but you can’t burn with hatred towards the sinner himself according to Fansetil and company. You must play nice. You can hate, but that affection can’t materialize; it can’t be judgmental.

This modern inclination only provides Christians with two options for their hostile emotions. Option one is to direct the emotions exclusively toward the sin itself or some abstract concept of evil. Option two is to simply drown the hatred. Our consciences scream that living in such a way is wholly unreasonable and unnatural.

The theological Overton Window has moved towards a type of pietism; viewing emotions that are seemingly “good” (love, empathy, patience) as righteous, and worthy of receiving a different treatment, than the “bad” or “hostile” emotions (resentment, hate, anger). Good emotions are permitted to run wild. Bad emotions are treated with a surgical nuance. The term “winsomeness” has been beaten to a pulp, but the term conveys this modern inclination well. In an age where men are growing frail in their vitality, it is dire to recover a theology that is not only biblical, but that integrates what most energizes men to fight against injustice: hatred. Thankfully, Reformed thinkers have done the prior legwork.

Calvin’s Hate

Calvin has much to say. Some readers may be surprised Calvin wrote significantly on human emotionality and its description in scripture. A cursory look at his work immediately places his views far from modernity. Calvin distances himself from ascetics and Stoics in his Commentary on Philippians, Colossians, and Thessalonians: “The dispositions which God originally implanted in our nature are not evil in themselves, because they do not arise from the fault of corrupt nature, but come forth from God as their Author.Calvin later in this work audaciously claims that men who try to eradicate their emotions and dispositions are akin to savages. Here the reformer is commenting on the emotion of grief, which Paul expresses in the death of Epaphroditus, but nonetheless, Calvin’s view on human emotion can be easily described as such: originally implanted, and present in prelapsarian Adam.

Though even the most pious modern theologian would affirm grief is harmless. Resentment, hate, and anger would not fall into this category as easily. So, does Calvin apply the same logic to these hostile emotions? 

He does, thus avoid any special pleading: “And surely grief, anger, desire, hope, fear, are affections of our unfallen nature, implanted in us by God, and such as we may not find fault with, without insulting God Himself. Moreover, the anger which is here ascribed to Moses is, in Deuteronomy 9, attributed to the person of God Himself. Whence we infer, that, since it emanated from the impulse of the Spirit, it was a virtue worthy of praise.Calvin says in his Commentary on Exodus. The Genevan does soon after admit our minds are helplessly warped and err frequently, but it is clear Calvin did not categorize the hostile emotions as sinful by their very nature. If Calvin is correct that our base emotions are of our unfallen nature, how do we square this with loving our enemies? Or is “hate the sin, not the sinner” a trope that pulls more theological weight than it initially seems? Much hinges on whether or not Calvin affirms (and ultimately, the Bible) that if we are, in some sense, permitted to hate the objects that excite our hatred: the wicked themselves.

Hate The Sin, Not Sinner?

We must distinguish. Indeed, Calvin nearly echoes the modern aphorism in his Commentary on Psalm 139:

“David’s example should teach us to rise with a lofty and bold spirit above all regard to the enmity of the wicked… We have the more need to attend to this, because the keen sense we have of what concerns our private interest, honor, and convenience, makes us never hesitate to engage in contest when any one injures ourselves, while we are abundantly timid and cowardly in defending the glory of God… On the other hand, it is a proof of our having a fervent zeal for God when we have the magnanimity to declare irreconcilable war with the wicked and them who hate God, rather than court their favor at the expense of alienating the divine layout… We are to observe, however, that the hatred of which the Psalmist speaks is directed to the sins rather than the persons of the wicked.”

Thus, Calvin seems to affirm a view of hatred that is somewhat communicated by the modern evangelical saying, “Hate the sin, not the sinner”. But most who live by the trope use it to mean we are only permitted to reserve any negative disposition towards either an abstraction of evil or evil actions—no hatred at all must be directed towards the person responsible for evil in any way. Such violates Christ’s gentleness and lowliness. This logic manifests itself in the form of chronic permissibility for the wicked, where repercussion and any detraction of affiliation is in lieu. A sense of pacifist, complacency undertones the aphorism which is unfounded in not only Calvin’s exposition here but also the psalmist’s lamentations. Calvin departs from modern evangelicalism at this point. Reflecting on his proclamation that our “magnanimity to declare irreconcilable war with the wicked and them who hate God”, it’s unimaginable to think that Calvin would “hate the wicked” in the same, gnostic sense modern evangelicals would. Although, how Calvin can admit to both hating the object that excites our hatred (the wicked) and not their persons needs more thought. How, exactly, does one separate an agent’s personhood from their wickedness is unclear.

John Gill provides some insight in his own commentary on Psalm 139. Observe how Gill claims that hate should be directed towards men as “haters of God”: “[…] and therefore good men hate them: not as men, […] but as haters of God, and because they are so; not their persons, but their works; […] as a man is filled with grief and indignation when another rises up against his father or his friend, […] Heartily and really; not in word only, but in deed and in truth; […] with consummate hatred: this is an answer to his own question.”

The moral standing of the wicked is that they are, indeed, haters of God, which is not unique to God’s crowning creation. Thus, we can burn with a consummate hatred towards evildoers as such. But for the unique personhood that all men possess, we ought to reserve complacent benevolence. This benevolence does not abrogate our hatred because it is directed towards another attribute, namely one that flows from the divine image. Therefore, hatred of the true object of our rage can exist with this benevolence. We need not merely “hate the sin, not the sinner” in the modern, abstract sense.

Hatred and Benevolence Ordered

All of this said it is understandably difficult to avoid a type of emotive schizophrenia if one’s hatred is not an offense to God only if it’s directed towards evil men as “haters of God”, and not actually men. Further distinguishing and ordering is needed. 

The Southern Presbyterian Robert Lewis Dabney offers a final refinement. In Dabney’s psychological writings, he expounds on God’s “emotions” towards sinners, ordering them, and uses it as a springboard to form a framework where one’s hatred can be meaningfully directed towards the wicked whilst reserving a love of benevolence: “We are compelled to carry this distinction even into the loves of God, or else make His own declarations contradictory. ‘God is angry with the wicked every day.’ […] ‘God commendeth his love towards us, in that while we were yet sinners he gave his Son to die for us.’ This hatred and this love must be of different orders. The hatred is moral reprehension for their sinfulness. The love is the love of benevolence.”

Dabney readers will find he classifies “resentment” as a  modification of what he calls “moral reprehension.” Dabney uses the term “resentment” to communicate what we would call “hatred”. “Resentment” for Dabney is a sensibility that arises out of a rational agent inflicting injustice, or, offending one’s desire to self-preserve. See how Dabney elsewhere in this work employs “hatred” when speaking in moral terms, which is what resentment is chiefly concerned with by his lights, “The hatred of sin and the hungering and thirsting after righteousness are appetencies active and subjective; and they are the crowning, the all-regulating ones, the noblest of all.”

Moral reprehension, Dabney claims, is directed towards rational unrighteous agents. The sensibility is implanted in man as an energizer to self-defense and fuel for delivering justice. Resentment for moral agents cannot retain innocence if it degenerates into malice, which finds pleasure in another moral agent’s misery. The reverend claims this resentment is ordered according to the wicked’s moral standing, whereas the love of benevolence is irrespective of it. The personality of man is immutable and deserves a complacent benevolence. Moral standing as an agent is corruptible and deserves treatment as such. The dispositions are ordered according to both.

Rigney’s Anti-Empathy, A Parallelism

Joe Rigney’s anti-empathy employs similar distinctions that help determine if our hatred has soured to malice or not. For Rigney, empathy is sinful if one enters into the confider’s frame and untethers themselves from God and truth. Hence, “In your empathy, do not sin.” We could say the same with hatred. In our hatred, we ought not sin, and we can avoid it by hating workers of iniquity for what they are: haters of God. But we will sin if we hate their personhood which uniquely flows from God’s image and is unaffected by their moral standing. Then we are sowing malice, and relish in their torment rather than the deliverance of holy judgment. Indeed, final revenge is The Lord’s. Once justice prevails the sun must go down on our hatred, and rest satisfied. Biblically we ought to hold a certain love of benevolence for all wicked men, whilst waxing with hatred towards their standing as evil moral agents and their tramplement of God’s ordinances—this is not a contradiction, lest we admit God can contradict Himself.

Therefore, we need not over-qualify our hatred for the wicked or drown it with lofty diction. Often, “righteous” is placed in front of “hatred” or “anger” to convey that hatred is sinful at its base. It is unnecessary. Our hatred ought to be fueled by a burning resentment for moral injustice, and is rightly pointed at those who sow it as evil-doers, who trample on us, the innocent, or against God’s purposes. Holiness is preserved if in our anger we yearn for the justice of God, appealing to heaven, rather than relishing in our self-will and kindling revenge. In the words of the Southern Presbyterian, “Ask this virtuous man: Do you care to be the executioner of the penal suffering with your own hand? He will tell you, No. He is glad the law appoints its own executioner.”

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Charles Jacobi

Charles Jacobi is the managing editor for Moonshine & Magnolias and also edits for TruthScript. His work has appeared in Theopolis Institute, Kuyperian Commentary, Providence Magazine, and Countere Magazine. You can follow him on X at @cholinergik.

One thought on “Hatred, Holy

  1. What is missing from the article is what is missing from many of the articles on this website which promote Christian Nationalism: a New Testament perspective.

    In the Old Testament we have the imprecatory Psalms. In the New Testament, we have both Jesus and Stephen praying that God forgive their executioners. In the Old Testament, God’s judgment fell on the physical enemies of Israel. In the New Testament, God’s judgment fell on Jesus instead of on us sinners. In the Old Testament there is a denouncing of the sins of others. In the New Testament, it is the one who begged for mercy who is accepted while the proud prayer of the Pharisee was condemned. In the New Testament, we are told to forgive others as Christ has forgiven us and that God sent Christ into the world while we were sinners, not after we repented. In the New Testament we are reminded of our continued failures and sins (see Romans 7 and James 2-3).

    I currently don’t know what the balance should be regarding holy hate, but I know that I will never find that balance without keeping in the forefront of my thinking what the New Testament says about me. And yet, I see more references to Calvin in the above article than references to the New Testament.

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