Can god hate?

von Benjamin Sawadsky

“The Bible is God’s love letter to mankind,” I learned at some point in Sunday school. Because in the Bible we read that God loves every single person unconditionally. Yes, even more: love describes not only what God does, but also what God is. God is love (according to 1Jn4,16). One could say: Just as it is the nature of the sun to shine, it is the nature of God to love.

But when I began to read this “love letter” of God carefully, I could not get out of my amazement: The God of love can hate. Yes, yes. For example, God hates things that destroy a life of joy and righteousness – such things as hypocrisy, pride and arrogance. God hates a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, and a heart that devises evil plans. [1] Pooh. That sounds harsh. How is it possible that God, who by his very nature is “pure love”, can hate?


In our thinking, love and hate are two antipoles wide apart – that is, two opposites, like white and black. They couldn’t be more different. But if we take a closer look, love and hate are perhaps closer together than we think.

Researchers at University College in London – one of the most renowned universities in the world – have discovered that our brain is unable to distinguish between love and hate stimuli. [2]  From a neurological point of view, something like being in love takes place in the same brain regions as contempt. Perhaps this is because, rationally speaking, love and hate are also closely linked. Because to be honest, we can’t seriously love without hating. We cannot love life without simultaneously hating everything that destroys life. We cannot desire truth without at the same time rejecting falsehood. We cannot stand up for justice without at the same time speaking out against injustice. According to Romans 12:9, our love is only sincere when we hate evil.

In this sense, we can state: God’s love and God’s hate are very close to each other. The fact that God is love does not mean that he cannot hate. On the contrary: because God loves, he can hate. Because God loves man, he can hate everything that devalues man. Because God loves life, he can hate everything that destroys life. God does not hate in spite of his love. He hates because of his love. Love is not simply peace, joy, pancakes. Love is fire. Love is passion. Love is a force of nature. Love is not harmless. Love also does not mean saying YES to everything. There is the NO in love for the sake of the beloved.

Ok, so far so good. That makes sense to me somehow. But now I came across some passages in the said “love letter” that clearly went too far for me, because the hatred now seemed to be clearly directed at people.


Here are two examples: According to Romans 9:13, God once loved Jacob while hating Esau. I beg your pardon? And as if this were not enough, Jesus then also calls on his disciples to hate. According to Luke 14:26, you can only be a disciple of Jesus if you hate your family – and your own life. What is going on now? Is Jesus actually asking us to hate our families and ourselves here? Mmh.

If we do a little research, we find that Jesus elsewhere affirms the command to honour father and mother. He also emphasises the responsibility of men for their families. He also speaks about the value of children. And in the double commandment of love, Jesus clearly affirms self-love when he says that we should love our neighbour “as ourselves”. So how does this attitude of Jesus fit with his injunction to hate family members and himself?

If we look at the context of this word of Jesus, we see: Jesus does not want to make a statement about hating. He wants to make a statement about discipleship. Discipleship means the process of being with Jesus, learning from him and orienting oneself to him. And Jesus says here quite openly that this process costs a price. To follow Jesus means to make him the highest priority and to put all other things behind.


The verb “to hate” (gr. miseo) can be translated not only in the sense of “to abhor” but also in the sense of “to put aside” or “to put second”. Jesus’ call to discipleship thus challenges our willingness to put everything else aside; even our family. To put it bluntly, we want our love for Jesus to be so strong that it makes our love for our family seem like hate.

Jesus wants to be our number one. He wants us to “love him more” than our dearest fellow human beings – this is how it is formulated in the parallel passage in Matthew 10:37. God loves with a jealous love.[3] That is why he shares his throne with no one, not even with those who are dearest to us. Putting God first means that everything else in life comes second, third, fourth and fifth.

If we understand the word “hate” in the sense of “putting aside”, then it also makes sense to us what is meant in Romans 9:13 when God says that he loved Jacob but hated Esau. God chose Jacob out of love. And that at the same time meant the “setting aside” of Esau. God hated Esau in the sense that he did not give him preference. His YES to Jacob meant at the same time his NO to Esau. But from the story we see that God also continued to care for Esau.

So: Can God hate? Yes, God can hate. But he does not hate in spite of his love. He hates because of his love. His hatred is always an expression of his love.


[1] Isa1:14; 61:8; Am5:21; Prov8:13; 16:6


[3] 5Deut5:9

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