A few weeks ago a YouTube video made its way around that was a sermon clip from Mark Driscoll, Pastor for Mars Hill Church in Seattle. In the video, which has since been removed from YouTube, Driscoll claimed that there is a side of God which hates people (You can read some of the transcript to that video here and see another video clip that provides further commentary here). His reasons for making such a claim is grounded in a theology based on the wrath of God.
In my humble opinion, this is just bad theology and irresponsible preaching. It is what happens when we attempt to build theologies on a single word or phrase in the Bible without keeping that word or phrase grounded in the larger narrative of scripture. I have criticized my own church tradition, the Churches of Christ, in the past on this blog for doing the same thing with the phrase “make music” (psallō) in a passage like Ephesians 5.19 and the issue of worship.
I am sure Pastor Driscoll means well and I have know doubt that he preaches because he wants the world to know Jesus Christ and understand what the Bible teaches. Be that as it may, he is just wrong in saying “God hates you.” I have no doubt that it will be a terrible and fearful thing to encounter the wrath of God apart from Jesus Christ. But God’s wrath does not come about because God hates us. Because God hates sin and evil? Yes! Because God, in his holiness, must execute justice? Yes! But because God actually hates us? Absolutely not!
In my sermon this last Sunday at the Columbia Church of Christ, I preached from Ephesians 2.1-10. It is a passage that speaks of both God’s wrath as well as God’s love and grace. I’m not a New Testament Scholar in the academic sense (neither is Driscoll) but I do hold a seminary degree (and so does Driscoll) and do exegete every passage I preach on before I write my sermons. So I would just like to briefly point something out about this well known and well loved passage from Ephesians.
In v. 1-3, the human condition apart from Christ is explained. We are “dead” due to our “transgressions and sins” which have come about because of our carnal cravings. This is the reason why we are deserving of God’s wrath. But… Verse 4 begins with a big objection “but (de) God who is rich in mercy, because of (dia) his great love with which he loved us…” (my translation). And the passage goes on to explain that God made us alive in Christ by the grace of God through faith.
The point of verse 4 and following is that God offers us grace in Christ because of his love for us. We–yes, we–are the object of God’s love and that is why God shows us grace and mercy. It should not go unnoticed that the word “mercy” (eleos) in v. 4 is the same word in the LXX (the Greek translation of the Old Testament) used to translate the Hebrew word for “steadfast love” (hesed) which was foundational to Israel’s understanding of God (cf. Ex 15.13; 34.6; Num 14.18-19; 1 Chr 16.34; Ps 103.8). That’s also a reason why we must read the New Testament in light of the Old Testament (I just had to throw that in as a bonus). Further more, while the Bible affirms God’s hatred for sin, for the evil that we humans do, it never, to my knowledge, speaks of people as the object of God’s hatred. The one possible exception I am aware of could be Psalm 11.5 but given the poetic genre of the Psalms, I would not want to make a propositional claim based on one verse–especially in light of what is said in the New Testament about God’s love (cf. Jn 3.16, Rom 5.5; Eph 2.4; 1 Jn 3.17).
So if you preach, preach about the seriousness of sin and the wrath of God that we will experience apart from Christ but do not preach that God hates us, no matter how much we stink of sin. God loves us and he does so not because we deserve it but because he is God. That is why we have grace in Christ, because God loves us. If you don’t preach, you probably still are in a position to teach and influence others. As such, I hope you will not make light of sin and the wrath of God that’s experienced apart from Christ. However, no matter how much sin a person is dwelling in, I hope that you will help them come to know the love of God that results in the outpouring of his grace and mercy.