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God, the Original Hate Criminal

If you’ve attended a variety of Catholic parishes, you’ve no doubt heard a homilist assert, “God loves everyone unconditionally.” (If you’re a Protestant, you’ve probably heard that too.)

It’s a soothing message, so much so that one feels no need to attend to God’s will or mend one’s ways. Given the politically correct vibes in certain parishes, it often seems that that’s precisely the point. But the question is, is the message true?

We’ve never seen the question addressed more succinctly and truthfully than in The Banner (Oct. 11, 1999), the biweekly publication of the Christian Reformed Church. In one of those Q&A features, “Extremely Confused” from Michigan writes in that he’s long believed that God loves everybody unconditionally. “But lately,” he says, “I’ve been finding verses in the Bible that seem to say otherwise. See, for example, Romans 9:13 (‘Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated’), Psalm 5:5 (‘You hate all who do wrong’), and Psalm 11:5 (‘The Lord examines the righteous, but the wicked and those who love violence his soul hates’).”

Pastor Ken Koeman answers by saying that God’s love is “complex” and “conditional,” and can turn into “wrath” (which reminds us of the aphorism that the opposite of love is not hate but indifference). Says the pastor: “God, in love, has made himself plainly known to all people (Rom. 1:20). But people can suppress the truth they know about God…. The result is that we place ourselves under God’s wrath…. Our conduct can provoke the anger of this loving God, much like a rebellious spirit in a child prompts holy anger in a parent. The parent still loves the child, but the child can’t see that love, nor should he. The child needs to see the wrath of the loving parent. That’s the shape love takes when it is spurned.”

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