From my very earliest memory in Sunday school I learned that the Bible teaches that "God is Love." For example, in First John 4:8, 16 the writer describes the essence of God's character as love. Imagine my surprise one morning recently when in Baptist Bible study we stumbled across another facet of God's character: God also hates, and even bears a grudge. The prophet Malachi "quotes" God as saying: "I have loved Jacob but Esau I have hated; I have laid waste his hill country and left his inheritance to jackals of the desert" (Malachi 1:3; Romans 9:13). And apparently God continues to bear a grudge against them, for Malachi adds: they are a "people with whom the Lord is angry forever" (Malachi 1:4).
Why would God hate Esau and treat his inheritance so cruelly? Recall that Esau had sold his right of primogeniture (rights of the first born, Deut 21:15-17) to his brother Jacob (Genesis 25:29-34); Esau's poor judgment in selling his birthright (Genesis 25:29-34) for a little bread and a bowl of lentils may have been the cause of God's hatred of Esau and might explain why his descendants (the Edomites, Genesis 36:9, 43) were later conquered by the Israelites (2 Chronicles 25:11-25; 2 Samuel 8:12-14). At any rate the descendants of Jacob, the Israelites (Genesis 32:28), were ascendant over the Edomites because it was what God wanted (2 Chronicles 25:20) because God favored Jacob's descendants (Genesis 32:28), and bore a grudge against Esau's descendants.
I can understand God being irritated at Esau for his poor judgment, but it seems an insufficient reason to hate him and bear a grudge against his descendants. Hate seems to have been another character trait of God as understood in the Jewish Bible, for Esau is not all that God hates. Job thought God hated him as well (Job 16:9), and even the Israelites at one point thought God hated them (Deuteronomy 1:27). And John did portray God claiming to hate the Nicolaitans (Revelation 2:6), as God also did the Ephraimites (Hosea 9:15).
God also hates human character flaws: robbery (Isaiah 61:8), evil in the heart, and false oaths (Zechariah 8:17). A list of other human character flaws that God hates appears in Proverbs 6:16-19 (haughty eyes, lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that run to evil, bearing false witness, and the one who sows discord), including certain Judean feasts and celebrations (Isaiah 1:14; Amos 5:21), along with evildoers (Psalm 5:5), and idol worship (Psalm 31:6; Jeremiah 44:4).
In the Baptist tradition I have always been told that "God loves the sinner but hates the sin." But that really does not appear to be the case in the Bible. God also seems to hate those who do the "sin" (i. e., whatever God may happen to disapprove of). It is true that the Deuteronomist claimed that God hated every abominable thing (again, what God disapproves of, Deuteronomy 12:31), but it also seems to be the case that God hates those that perpetuate abominations, as those, for example, in Proverbs 6:16-19.
Unless a person holds the view that the Bible is literally the words of God or words inspired by God in some way, one might recognize that describing God as "hating" is a quite primitive anthropomorphic description of God—that is, the attribution of human characteristics to God. In other words the biblical writers were describing God in their own image as if God were only a bigger and more powerful human being—something the Greeks and Romans suggested by the physical size of their statuary representations of the Gods, and their descriptions of the reprehensible behavior of the Olympians. The Biblical writers simply transferred human characteristics to God—including gender. However, God as spirit (John 4:24) does not have gender (i.e., God is neither he nor she), and God therefore does not experience human emotions—either those we consider positive or negative. God, if God there be, is not of the human tribe, but rather wholly other.
And if God does not hate, neither does God love.
In truth, each of us invents God in a way that satisfies us.
Charles W. Hedrick
Missouri State University