“We don’t hate.” That’s what Mom used to say when I said I hated something. As if we were Catholics who didn’t eat meat on Fridays, or Jehovah’s Witnesses who didn’t celebrate birthdays. We were just Presbyterians. How could we decide not to hate? It was ridiculous.
Even as a kid, I felt like hate was part of being human. Everyone hated something. I hated meatloaf. I hated having to run an any-yard dash, my throat opening up as if I might die. I hated that shrill substitute teacher who would appear, out of the blue, and turn what might have been a decent day into drudgery. She once said something I didn’t like. She was mean and smug. I can’t remember what she said or why I instantly turned against her, only the lonely, seething, oppressive hate.
As an adult, certain people instantly incur my wrath: people who cluelessly or maliciously endanger children, dumb-asses in general, and bigots. Especially bigots. This puts me in the awkward position of hating haters. It’s more than awkward; it’s overwhelming, since as a Christian I aspire to mercy.
Like a lot of us, I’ve become increasingly worried about certain haters. The bigots are gaining influence and power. Their hate may be thinly veiled or blatant; I find it infuriating and frightening nonetheless. I have to stop myself from reading their hate-filled comments on news websites and blogs. At first, I told myself it was important to fully acknowledge the depth of the problem, the abyss of hate they created where there used to be middle ground to meet and discuss. But I soon realized that there is no room for discussion among the haters. I could click on the icon for “Nuts” or “Brilliant” or even post a well-thought-out rebuttal and still not change a damn thing. The haters would not stop hating. I would not hate them any less. And worse, I might be identified as a person who falls into one of their hate-categories, which would make me a target. The best I can hope for is to be a participant in the rhetoric. The worst is to become involved in the inevitable violence. If we believe in a merciful God—if we don’t hate—where does it go?
What the hell would Jesus do?
“It’s just the way God made us.” That was the easy, jokey answer my son gave when I posed the question to him. He’s a good person to ask. As a teen with Asperger’s syndrome, Sam looks at human emotion with an objective eye. He can be both analytical and intuitive. I told Sam about my hatred toward the so-called pastor who is threatening to burn the Koran. He’s endangering the lives of soldiers and civilians and inciting violence among religions and nations. God is telling him who to hate, he says. Wouldn’t our God want us to stand against that? Yes, I’m sure that’s exactly what God wants me to do—I answer before Sam can weigh in—which is why my hate feels so justified. It feels good, energizing, and powerful.
And yet, when it comes down to it, I don’t have any power to stop the book-burning. My energy is channeled into words, spoken or written, that might eventually be posted on a forum where an icon may label them as brilliant or nuts.
“I have a theory about hate,” Sam said when I took a breath. Sam thinks people secretly hope their aggression will result in retaliation, so they’ll be justified as the victim of the other, whom they despise.
That makes sense, I said, considering the pastor takes no responsibility for the violence he incites. Instead, he talks about getting death threats, and says he has to get a gun and arm himself, just in case he has to kill in self-defense.
I was not appeased when, a couple days later, the pastor called off his threat. He said God was now telling him not to do it. Did God’s opinion change or did the pastor realize he’d attributed his own hate to God? He didn’t say.
It’s really tempting to say God shouldn’t forgive the pastor. I understand from the story of Jonah that it’s not up to me. But the pastor misrepresented God, and that’s dangerous. I’m sympathetic to Jonah, at least more sympathetic toward him than I am toward the pastor. I can forgive Jonah more easily, maybe because I’ve never seen Jonah on the evening news, against a backdrop that looked like the set of South Park. Besides, compared to the pastor’s blind hate of people he doesn’t know or understand, Jonah’s grievance seems legitimate.
Like the preacher, Jonah thought he knew better than God. Jonah saw all Ninevites as unforgivably evil. They were blood-thirsty and cruel—but was every single one of them like that? Someone had to perform the gentler tasks of making clay pots and knitting sweaters, singing lullabies so everyone could get some sleep. I imagine when the king ordered the Ninevites to don sackcloth and quit chopping people to smithereens, there were some in the community who breathed a huge sigh of relief.
Not that they were entirely righteous in the eyes of the Lord, these nicer Ninevites. Perhaps they spent their youth worshiping false gods. Occasionally they may have consumed more than their fair share, or said something mean and sarcastic because it got a laugh and a high-five. The good ones might have been like us, living in a world of them, a little bitter that God forgives us all.