Editor's Note: Pastor Roger Barrier's "Ask Roger" column regularly appears at Preach It, Teach It. Every week at Crosswalk, Dr. Barrier puts nearly 40 years of experience in the pastorate to work answering questions of doctrine or practice for laypeople, or giving advice on church leadership issues. Email him your questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
My friends and I were discussing the recent Boston Marathon bombing. The topic of whether or not a Christian can hate terrorists arose. Is it OK to hate a terrorist?
As I peruse the Bible, based upon what it says about God's character, I'd have to say that it is OK to hate terrorists.
A number of passages refer to actions that God hates. Not only does He hates these detestable activities, the bible records that He also hates the ones who perpetrate them.
Proverb 6:16-19 is one example:
There are six things the Lordhates,
seven that are detestable to him:
a lying tongue,
hands that shed innocent blood,
a heart that devises wicked schemes,
feet that are quick to rush into evil,
false witness who pours out lies
and a person who stirs up conflict in the community.
Proverb 11:5 is another example:
The Lord examines the righteous, but the wicked, those who love violence, he hates with a passion.
Let me include Malachi 2:14-16 God talks about the treacherous ill treatment that a husband gives to the wife of his youth, his companion and the wife of his covenant:
God says, "I hate divorce and I hate a man covering his wife with violence" (this is the alternative translation in the KJV). While not stating here specifically that He hates the man who physically abuses his wife, it is certainly implied by the context as we read the behaviors that God hates throughout the entire Book of Malachi.
“The man who hates and divorces his wife,” says the Lord, the God of Israel, “does violence to the one he should protect,” says the Lord Almighty.
(By the way, consider that hitting and abusing a wife is justification for her getting a divorce. A husband like this has violated his marriage covenant to care for, protect his wife and to love her as Jesus loves His church according to Ephesians 5:20-33).
Notice that all of these passages are from the Old Testament. The focus in the New Testament is more on God's love for sinners than His hating the unrighteous. This is a paradox. We will attempt to unravel the contorted thread in a moment.
Do you realize that there are over 100 different definitions for "Who is a terrorist?” and/or "What is terrorism?” Neither the international community nor the United Nations can agree on a proper definition. Definitions run the gamut from car bombings, to the Nicaraguan Contra freedom fighters, to totalitarian governments, just to name three.
The concept of terrorism may be practiced by state authorities to delegitimize political or other opponents, and to potentially legitimize the state's own use of armed force against opponents (such use of force may be described as "terror" by opponents of the state--think Syria).
Terrorism is often practiced by political organizations to further their objectives. It is practiced by both right-wing and left-wing political parties, nationalistic groups, religious groups, revolutionaries, and ruling governments.
Consider that one person's freedom fighter might well be another person's terrorist. Soldiers in the American revolutionary war were considered to be heroes for American liberty while concurrently considered to be terrorists by the British government.
Allow me to share some personal thoughts about the potential use of terrorism in America. I've felt somewhat threatened by recent developments that scare me. I will use these only for illustrations to show that terrorism has many definitions--some strike closer to home than others.
Some recent revelations are disquieting to me. They make me afraid (terror). When I read that Homeland Security has bought up over 2.5 BILLION bullets, I wonder why? Who needs that many bullets? Police officers don't have enough bullets to train. Police departments are bartering with each other for bullets. The reason given for the purchases is to be prepared for "civil unrest." We are talking here about the US government possibly targeting citizens who potentially disagree with official government policies. By the way, what good is it to win the "gun control issue" when there are no bullets to be had--perhaps a sneaky way to negate the gun control issue.
The Benghazi fiasco looks to me like the government actually lied several weeks before the last election in order to allow our president a better chance to win. It is plausible deniability to communicate that an anti-Muslim biased American film could be the reason for destroying an American embassy, and the Americans within, with AK-47s and RPGs. It took several weeks for the truth come out. The attack was an Al Qaeda terrorist attack from the start. By the time the truth was known, the presidential election was all but over. We hear that the "talking points" were changed at the last moment to reflect a mob out of control and not a terrorist attack in order to put the administration in a better light. Not being able to trust the highest levels of government scares (terrorizes) me.
There is no doubt now that the IRS targeted for extra scrutiny conservative groups which held different views than the current administration--even questioning some groups concerning what they prayed about in their prayers.
It's currently alleged that the administration is threatening prosecution while spying on A.P. reporters. This threatens freedom of the press and freedom of speech, and speaks of governmental control over what we think and say.
Consider the implications for our Constitution and Bill of Rights (the first ten amendments to the Constitution). In my personal view three of our Bill of Rights are currently under fire. The trends are frightening to me.
First Amendment: Freedom of speech, freedom of the press, the right to petition the U.S. government for redress of grievances.
Second Amendment: The right to keep and bear arms.
Tenth Amendment: Powers not granted to the Federal Government by the constitution, nor prohibited to the States are reserved to the States or the people.
I've tried to show that terrorism takes many forms from individual acts to nations with nasty agendas. But, let's deal with terrorism in what we might consider its most common form. The one which most of us have little trouble recognizing.
For our purposes, we will define terrorism as the use of violence and/or coercion, intended to create fear (terror); for the purpose of gaining publicity for a group, cause, or an individual, which are often perpetrated for religious, political or ideological goals; and that deliberately target or disregard the safety of non-combatants.
We are talking about the bombers of the Boston Marathon, Timothy McVey and the federal office building in Oklahoma, the KKK, and the 9-11 airplane bombers, and so forth. These all are acts of violence for political purposes. Let's also include those who walk into kindergarten classes and kill twenty preschoolers at a time or who enter a crowded movie theater and mow down eighteen innocent people with an AK-47.
Shall we also include those who terrorize with threats or actions of murder? These individuals certainly are terrorists to the individuals who are being harmed--physically or emotionally.
I certainly did not hate one man in particular who threatened to kill me and others and who was on the way my house the night he was caught by the police. I can't say that I hated him; but I sure was glad when he was dead.
Now, let's get to our initial question: "Is it OK to hate a terrorist?"
The answer seems to depend on whether we are reading the Old Testament or the New Testament. How do we reconcile God hating people who sin in the Old Testament while loving and not hating those who sin in the New Testament?
The truth is, I don't know. Nor have I never read or found any one who satisfactorily unravels the thread of this mystery to my satisfaction. I suppose we will have to have God unscramble the puzzle of the paradox in eternity.
But we do know this: We have no trouble recognizing from the New Testament that we are to love the unlovable and show kindness, mercy and compassion to those who hurt us. We are to love and never to hate anyone.
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16).
Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one friends (John 15:13).
Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen (1 John 4:20).
The conclusion that I draw is that we are to passionately hate the actions of those who sin, while still maintaining agape love for those we really want to hate.
Let me illustrate with my imaginings on the day 9-11 occurred. I imagined that God deeply loved the terrorists who brought down the Trade Centers. After all, they were His creation. He never intended for them to do what they did or to end up like they did.
Milliseconds after the smash they were in the presence of God. I imagined God saying to them, "What were you thinking!!?? I am so disappointed in you and what you've done. I love you; but I am just and holy. It breaks My heart to tell you that where you're going there aren't seventy-two virgins waiting your arrival--only the fires of Hell.” And God wept as these murderous children that He'd created were ushered into the fire. He loved those He'd made, but He hated what they had done--and they suffered the consequences.
Well, Trisha, I hope you and your friends find my answer helpful. Thanks for asking.
Dr. Roger Barrier retired as senior teaching pastor from Casas Church in Tucson, Arizona. In addition to being an author and sought-after conference speaker, Roger has mentored or taught thousands of pastors, missionaries, and Christian leaders worldwide. Casas Church, where Roger served throughout his thirty-five-year career, is a megachurch known for a well-integrated, multi-generational ministry. The value of including new generations is deeply ingrained throughout Casas to help the church move strongly right through the twenty-first century and beyond. Dr. Barrier holds degrees from Baylor University, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Golden Gate Seminary in Greek, religion, theology, and pastoral care. His popular book, Listening to the Voice of God, published by Bethany House, is in its second printing and is available in Thai and Portuguese. His latest work is, Got Guts? Get Godly! Pray the Prayer God Guarantees to Answer, from Xulon Press. Roger can be found blogging at Preach It, Teach It, the pastoral teaching site founded with his wife, Dr. Julie Barrier.