“To fear the Lord is to hate evil. I hate arrogant pride, evil conduct, and perverse speech.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
God is love. That’s what John told us. That’s not some kind of an interpretive spin on what he said either. It’s a direct quote: God IS love. It’s the essence of His being. It defines more surely than almost anything else (with the exception of justice and holiness which together form the core triad of His character) who He is. Jesus told us that we are to be known by love if we are to be known as His followers. If that’s the case, then we shouldn’t hate anything, right? So what’s going on here?
Well, we need to start by making sure we understand the terms as Solomon would have understood them. To fear the Lord was to have a healthy respect of who He was in light of what He had done. It spoke of a kind of devotion to God that eclipsed any other priorities a person might have otherwise had. Throughout the Old Testament, whenever we see the word hate contrasted with devotion to God of some kind, the concepts being expressed are not primarily emotional, but focused in on the will. To hate something is to not choose it.
As much as we are repulsed today by the word hatred (or, more specifically, being a “hater”), this should give us a bit of peace about this verse. Solomon is not calling us to be a hater in the modern sense. What he is saying is this: If we are going to choose God, we must not choose evil.
Ah, but that runs us right smack into another word that gives modern readers trouble. Evil is such a…judgmental word. Evil. It just sounds…well…like it says. And to label something as “evil” is to pass such an uncomfortable judgment on it. Who are we to say whether something has reached that level of badness? Maybe it’s simply misunderstood. Maybe where it originated that way is okay. All our thinking about the concept of evil has been shaped by the relativism that has so much of our culture so firmly in its grasp.
But the fact is, in spite of our relativistic worldview leanings as a people, we still inherently recognize some things as indeed evil. The young man who recently went into a Walmart in El Paso, TX and shot as many as he could, murdering more than 20 in cold blood and wounding at least as many more was driven by his own admission by a racist hatred for Hispanic people. We instantly recognized his actions as evil. They were not misguided. They were not misunderstood. They were not justifiable in any sense. They were evil.
The problem, then, is not with the label “evil” as such, it is with labeling things as evil when there is not a broad social consensus about it. More precisely, we don’t want to see something we might do ourselves given such a label because then, in theory, the label might apply to us and we definitely don’t think of ourselves in such terms.
This brings us into conflict with the various authors who contributed to the Scriptures. The consistent picture we are given there is that anything which is not consistent with the character of God is evil. Period. It may only look like a little evil now, barely worth being given such a label, but if we could see it as it truly is, no amount of smallness would prevent us from labeling it properly. And, to Solomon’s point, if we are going to commit ourselves to God, we cannot have anything to do with that. At all.
If we are going to love God, we must hate evil. This is a packaged deal. We have to actively not choose things that are not consistent with His character. Solomon even gives us three examples to get us started. We must reject arrogant pride and evil conduct and perverse speech. That is, we should reject evil in our thinking, doing, and speaking. We should reject it in whatever form it happens to take.
More than simply rejecting it, though, allow me to reintroduce that sense of moral revulsion. We should be repulsed at the sight of evil. We should revile it. Seeing it in any form should make us sick to our stomach. We should hate it. Vigorously. Evil—thinkings, doings, and speakings which are contrary to the character of God—ruins people’s lives. It destroys families. It wrecks careers. It breaks hearts. It leaves a wide wake of destruction everywhere it is allowed to grow. Ultimately, it leads to death of every kind. There is nothing good about evil. Ever.
So choose God. He is better. Reject evil. Better yet, hate evil. Have nothing to do with it. You can’t if you are going to be a consistent follower of His. This may be uncomfortable to think about, and it will certainly take courage to pursue, but it will lead to the life that is truly life every single time. This is because when you choose the God of life, you get the life He gives. That sounds worth it to me.