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Be Hatin’ (Part Two)

November 27, 2011

The Text

27Add to them punishment upon punishment;
may they have no acquittal from you.
28Let them be blotted out of the book of the living;
let them not be enrolled among the righteous.
(Psalm 69:27-28 ESV)

A Closer Look at the Text

What can be more “un-Christian,” than to pray for the eternal damnation of someone? If ever there was a proof text for the notion that the Old Testament reflects a faith, and perhaps a God, that is harsh, unforgiving, and even heartless, this imprecatory Psalm seems to do the job.

But this Psalm isn’t just an Old Testament anachronism. Other than Psalm 22, Psalm 69 is the most often-quoted Psalm in the New Testament. In the Old Testament, the “book of the living” has more to do with being “among the righteous” (whom God blesses with life) than the Book of Life referred to in the Revelation. And yet this Psalm does point to and does anticipate God’s ultimate justice and judgment as described in the Revelation.

In some ways this passage can be paraphrased, “God, I have been attacked and unfairly accused. You are just. Please do what you in your justice must do. Now, please.”

Some Observations about the Text

Uncensored Prayer. Have you every prayed for something, only to realize that your request did not, upon further reflection, glorify God? Have you ever prayed for something, such as a promotion, a high score on an exam (in a course of study that is graded on a curve), a sale of a product or service, or some other outcome that involved your success at the expense of someone else? Your victory sometimes — not always, but sometimes — necessitates a defeat or failure on the part of someone else. And here’s the ultimate question: have you ever found yourself asking God’s forgiveness for the pride or selfishness that informed and motivated a past prayer?

If you have experienced some anxiety — or what we sometimes call conviction, or a “check in the spirit” — about a past prayer, um, pray about it. But also allow yourself to gain some assurance from these imprecatory prayers. One of the lessons we learn from them, is that God doesn’t demand perfect prayers. Unlike a rigorous English professor, He doesn’t reject your paper because your words were poorly constructed or not politically (or prayer-tically) correct.

In His love and mercy, God invites to share are hearts with him. And sometimes when we do, the prayer can be, well, a little ugly. A little whiny. And often, very desperate.

In Be Hatin’ Part One, we observed that the imprecations or maledictions found in imprecatory psalms were always mapped to God’s plans and purposes. Never are curse-like invectives issued in the Psalms solely expressed as personal vindication. Hatred of sin and evil (Psalm 139:17-24) are necessary ingredients for any imprecation in the Psalms.

Here, we can observe that imprecations are never uttered casually or lightly. Instead, they are always in the context of deep and desperate conflict. Usually the conflict is war. Only those who have fought in a war, or who have lived in a war zone, can truly appreciate the depth and the desperation. It’s the stuff that History Channel war documentaries are made of: death and pain and blood and merciless killing and maiming and rape and mutilation. Conditions and circumstances that lead even the most faithful to call out, “Where are you, God?”

God doesn’t censor our prayers. If we feel the need to call out, “Where are you, God?” then we need to call out to him right then and there and without hesitation. He is there, but in this sin-cursed world where free will is sometimes expressed as free kill, He invites us to turn to Him. To rely upon Him. To share our deepest terrors with Him. He is God and He is there.

If you find yourself in that place of deep desperation, Psalm 69 makes a good read. It’s the perfect desperate-prayer guide. The psalmist cries out, “Save me, O God!  For the waters have come up to my neck. I sink in deep mire, where there is no foothold; I have come into deep waters, and the flood sweeps over me.I am weary with my crying out; my throat is parched. My eyes grow dim with waiting for my God.” (Psalm 69:1-4). If this resonates with you right now, stop reading this blog and turn to Psalm 69 and read it from top to bottom … several times. It will bless you

Life is often about being under attack. In Psalm 69:8-29, as in Psalm 35:11-15, David describes the experience of being hunted and hated. Which of course he was. But we all are. The enemy that seeks to hunt us down and defeat us might not be Saul. The waters threaten to come up to our neck. We feel ourselves sinking in deep mire, where there is no foothold. It might not be actual water, or an actual army. Or even people. But we can sometimes feel the same level of imminent defeat that David expresses.  Our enemy might be the job market (or lack thereof). Or our own unwise spending habits, eating-and-exercising failings, social inadequacies, career or school failure, family turmoil, parenting dysfunction, or addiction to anything from lust to love, from being high to living high. Usually when we pray against that-which-takes-us-down, we are exactly where we need to be in our calling-out to God. We are at the first verse of Psalm 69. He is pleased to hear and respond to our prayers, without first editing them down to sterile smarminess.

The imprecatory Psalms are not an invitation to invective, and they do not provide permission to gratuitously curse others. But they are an invitation from God to trust God to resolve our tribulations to His glory. We know in faith that He is just. Sometimes, as in today’s verses (Psalm 69:27-28) we find ourselves praying that God will accelerate His justice. Once we make such a request, we can follow David’s lead and move on to the next prayer topic. We can can say, “But I am afflicted and in pain; let your salvation, O God, set me on high!” (Psalm 69:29) and then thank and praise Him for doing so (the rest of Psalm 69, i.e., verses 30-36).

Old Testament Wrath / New Testament Grace? Was God somehow more stern, more focused on justice, or more full of wrath in the Old Testament as opposed to the New Testament? Some people seem to think so. After all, to the extent that the Old Testament spotlights the fall of Adam and Eve and the consequences of sin, the New Testament offers a solution. The Old Testament is about the fall, and the New Testament is about redemption.

But the character of God does not change; it is immutable (Malachi 3:6). Jesus, the merciful Redeemer and Savior, was more than willing to very personally and very directly condemn the Pharisees in strongest of language … essentially sending them to hell (Matthew 23:29-36). Jesus’ description of the fate of those who cause sin (Matthew 13:41-43) or choose sin (Mark 9:47-49) were similarly blunt. It was not out of character for Jesus Christ to echo the imprecations of Psalm 69 when he criticized the unbelieving cities of Capernaum Chorazin and Bethsaida (Matthew 11:20-24). Nor when he differentiated between a disciple’s true love for God, and, by comparison, a person’s natural affection for parents and family and life itself, as being necessarily equivalent to love and hate, respectively (Luke 14: 25-32). Jesus spoke with severe judgment against the Pharisees (Luke 3:7-9), against Peter (Matthew 16:23), against Judas (Mark 14:21), and against the wicked (Matthew 25:41).  In fact there are many very strong and serious declarations made throughout the New Testament, such as the pronouncement of the unpardonable sin (Mark 3:22-30); Paul’s recognition of the consequence of not loving the Lord (1 Corinthians 16:22); Paul’s condemnation of heretics (Galatians 1:8-9), Elymas (Acts 13:10-11), Ananias (Acts 23:3), and Alexander (2 Timothy 4:14); Peter’s castigation of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:9) and Simon the magician (Acts 8:20); James’ comment about gold and silver (James 5:3); and the prayer of the martyrs at Revelation 6:10.

As we noted earlier, God hates sin (Psalm 5:6). A follower of Christ, who understands that God is so high and holy that only through Christ can we ever expect to survive His perfect justice, also hates sin. The Christian disciple doesn’t want anyone to perish, but does want everyone to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9). As Christians grow in faith their hatred of and toward sin increases. As their love for Christ becomes more genuine, they come to hold more securely to that which is good, while abhorring (hating) evil (Romans 12:9). In other words, there cannot be genuine love without hatred of sin and evil (Psalm 139:17-24).

Love (and Hate): Midpoint Between Rationalism and Sentimentalism. When we speak of love and hate, we are usually talking about passions. Emotions. Zeal. The heart, as much as or more than the mind. Love and hate point to variability, to swings of passion, to tempests and storms and heartfelt engagement with life.

ZEAL v. sentimentalism rationalismWhen we speak of rationalism, in contrast, we usually refer to a way of thinking that is not cluttered and thrown off course by emotions. Rationalism is steady, if not stern. Rationalism does not in theory vary with love, hate, or any other emotions. We sometimes point to contemporary economic theory, which is based on the assumption that individual human beings are “rational agents,” capable of consistently acting in their own self-interest by assessing costs and benefits and reliably making optimal choices. This might be a good economic theory (which is debatable), but it makes for a terrible observation of human nature in action.

People don’t act as rational agents (even when we think we are making rational choices). So much so, that human irrationality defies the very tenets of evolutionary theory. We drive all over town to save three cents per gallon on gas. We buy diet soft drinks to go with our chicken wings and french fries. We will miss a payment on our rent or utilities before getting rid of the three dogs and two cats that are costing us $150 per month. We eat too much, drink to much, watch too much TV, take too many medications and exercise too little. We go on strike and miss months and months of paychecks, threatening the very survival of our employer, over a couple of dollars an hour … only to settle for a few cents per hour. And when we are traumatized by life, we take stock in ourselves by reference to close family and dear friends, not in terms of wise economic decisions well made over time.

Most people would agree that the life well lived is a life characterized by both love and reasonableness. Not mindless sentimentality. Neither heartless rationalism. But a wise and virtuous midpoint between these two vices.

Here’s the catch: love is not lived out without being jealously guarded. Most observers would agree that husband does not love his wife unless he is willing to protect her, that is, to hate that which threatens her. Similarly, the mother does not really love a child unless she is willing to fight against, and hate, that which would destroy her child. To love is to be loyal. Passionate (as opposed to passionless) loyalty calls for a little bit of hatred from time to time.

God loves those who respond to His Gospel with faith in and love for Jesus Christ. In the interest of His kingdom and His glory and the integrity of His righteousness and holiness, God hates those who reject faith in Jesus Christ.

This is true of God as narrated in the Old Testament. It is true of Jesus Christ as we read how He responds to evil in the New Testament. And it is true for followers of Jesus Christ … those who love what He loves and hates what He hates.

Abhor. We don’t use the word “abhor” very much any more, as in “Abhor what is evil” (Romans 12:9). Instead we use words like “loathe” or “hate.” Paul’s verb apostygeō is a very harsh word, loaded with loathing and disgust. Although “abhor” is a correct technical translation, it is also properly translated “hate” in the NIV and NLT. It is a word that has passion and intensity. We are commanded not simply to choose good over evil; we are to embrace the good, and passionately hate evil with disgust and loathing.

Gospel Apologetics

One of the most familiar Bible texts of the Bible is John 3:16. Buried within that verse is the ultimate expression of the law of non-contradiction: those do not believe, perish. They are doomed. Their fate is not just eternal separation from God; it is eternal wrath. There is no middle ground. The proposition is digital: one or zero. Life or death. Not very pleasant stuff, in the eyes of many, but there it is. And two verses later in that same chapter of the Gospel of John, Jesus explains that those who perish are condemned. “Whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God” (John 3:18). Still a few paragraphs later in that same chapter is further clarification: “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him” (John 3:36).

For God, and for us, life’s choices boil down to a very digital, one or zero type of decision. Belief or rejection. Life or death. Love or hate.

To be a follower of Jesus Christ requires both faith and love. But part of loving God, is hating sin and evil (Romans 12:9). You can’t be loving God without hating evil. So, go ahead. Be hatin’!

Audio MP3 Discussion of this post is available here.

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