The Cross of Hate

Michaelangelo's famed Pietà in St. Peter's Basilica, Vatican City. (Author photograph)

Michaelangelo’s famed Pietà in St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City. (Author photograph)

This is the fourth in a series of essays on the topic of reconciliation. You will find links to the others articles at the bottom of this page.

In the cross of Christ, the love of God is most apparent. For what more can a person give for another beyond their very life, or what more could they suffer than the ultimate agony of death on a cross? Yes, “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8) A thousand hymns proclaim to us the love of God, and rightly so, for He loves us beyond measure.

See, from his head, his hands, his feet

Sorrow and love flow mingled down.

Did e’er such love and sorrow meet,

Or thorns compose so rich a crown?[1]

Isaac Watts, “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross”, verse 3

Yet, we must not be satisfied with this explanation alone, for the cross was not only an act of love. The cross is equally a symbol of God’s hate. We do not always see hate in Christ’s actions that day, His words offering forgiveness to His enemies and His last breaths dedicated to helping others. That the world hated Christ is not difficult to accept, but what of the hate of Christ Himself? Have we made ourselves blind to this?

I have often wondered what Christ saw when He hung upon that cross. Surely, it was not only the crowd gathered to jeer at Him, nor was it merely the buildings of Jerusalem as they looked on that particular day. We know that He saw already the advance of the Roman army and the certain destruction that would come in forty years’ time. We know He thought about that, because He stopped to mention it on the way to the cross. (Luke 23:28-31)

Is it possible that He also saw the centuries of warfare that would engulf the blessed city, each faction seeking supremacy over the other? Might He have seen how the city would change from Jewish hands, to pagan ones, to Christian ones, to Muslim ones, then back to Christian ones, then back to Muslim ones, then finally back (for the most part) to the Jews? Did He see the suicide bombings that have terrorized the city in recent decades, or the wall that has been built just to the east to prevent further incursions? I believe He saw all of it, and that it was for such things that He died.

Crucifix created by an unknown 13th century artist. Displayed in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, Italy. (Author photograph)

Crucifix created by an unknown 13th century artist. Displayed in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, Italy. (Author photograph)

This momentous sacrifice was a declaration not only of God’s love for humanity, but also of His hatred toward sin. When I say “sin”, I am not merely referring to the unrighteous deeds for which Christ atoned. The scriptures have much to say about the divine wrath that is brought to bear in response to sinful actions. It was sin that brought about the separation between God and man, and we certainly must understand the Atonement as a payment for that sin and an upholding of divine holiness and justice. However, God’s hate goes beyond that to the actual effects of sin upon His creation, and the major effect of sin on this earth is to breed division and strife: not only physical death, but the living death that is a life without loving communion.

“‘I hate divorce,’ says the Lord, the God of Israel…” (Malachi 2:16) Yes, God hates divorce, as surely as He loves the world. If you want to know how much He hates discord, abandonment, and oppression, then see the body beaten and bleeding, the soul in ultimate anguish, the injustice suffered in silence. It was for reconciliation’s sake that Christ died, for without His perfect sacrifice, man could be restored to neither God nor his fellow man. Sin broke the cord of communion between created and Creator, even as it destroyed the bond between husband and wife, brother and brother, mother and child. That distance is a hateful thing to God and a condition not to be tolerated. It is why He was willing to go to the cross. For no other reason would He have suffered in such a manner.

It is not strange to call Christ’s sacrifice an act of hate – no more so than to call it an act of love. Hate is not the opposite of love nor the absence of regard. Cold indifference is the opposite of love: not the man who hurls insults, but the man who walks by on the other side. Hatred is an appropriate response to sin and its heinous effects, for sin is the supreme enemy of the human race. Not hatred of people, mind you, but hatred of sin.

To hate sin is to care deeply for those whom it effects. To tolerate sin and act with indifference toward one’s neighbors: this is the true evil. Some may hate enough to kill, but Christ hated enough to die. For the cross truly is both the supreme act of love and the supreme act of hate, and until we understand that, we will comprehend neither God, nor mankind, nor ourselves.

Detail from the pulpit of the baptistery of Pisa Cathedral, sculpted by Giovanni Pisano. (Author photograph)

Detail from the pulpit of the baptistery of Pisa Cathedral, sculpted by Giovanni Pisano. (Author photograph)

So if we are to be like Christ, must we not hate as He did? Ah, there is the problem! We do not hate after the manner of Christ. Too often, our disdain finds its origin in the selfish longings of our hearts. It is not a hatred motivated by our zeal for the perfection of God, but rather a hatred that comes when our own pride is wounded.

“Hate the sin, not the sinner!” So we all say, but we frail creatures of dust can scarcely grasp the meaning of the phrase. Certainly, we do not put it into practice, nor can we short of the working of the Holy Spirit. What we proclaim to be righteous anger rarely matches the holiness demanded by God. We use scripture to validate the anger we already possess: we do not become angry because we see the violation of scripture. At least, we would have no hope of doing so were it not for the power of the gospel, and even then we are often blind to the true motivations of our heart. Who among us is brave enough to stand before the throne of God and have the workings of our heart examined under the penetrating light of His holiness? We must not think that our anger can ever be as pure and undefiled as that of Jesus Christ. We must rely on the purification that comes from the Spirit.

How then must we hate? We need not wonder, for it has been revealed to us. “There are six things which the Lord hates, yes, seven which are an abomination to Him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that run rapidly to evil, a false witness who utters lies, and one who spreads strife among brothers.” (Proverbs 6:16-19) What do these things have in common? They are all the opposite of reconciliation: each in its own way destroys relationships between human beings.

Therefore, if Christ died for reconciliation, it could be equally said that he died in defiance against all those things which eat away at reconciliation. The entire life of Christ, and most especially His death, was a radical statement against the status quo of discord. With every step He took along the way to the cross, He was goaded by His opponents and the devil himself to choose to fight rather than sacrifice – in effect, to continue the cycle of discord. Try as they might, He never gave in, even when He had every reason to object: even when He was unjustly executed.

Christ’s love created a desire to restore relationships. His hate burned against the sin that had destroyed those relationships. To view the cross in one mode only would be to diminish it. It is about payment for sins (penal substitution), and it is also about the triumph over evil and discord. (Christus Victor) It is about the eternal glory of God in heaven, and the ugly glory of the cross. It created reconciliation between God and man, and it opened the way for reconciliation between human beings. The work of Christ was powerful enough to accomplish all of those things.

Even as we cannot fathom the depths of God’s love, we also cannot fathom the depths of His hate. We do not feel as keenly the breaches that have formed between God and man, and between man and man. We are content to continue on in this divided manner, without surrendering all we are to the pursuit of reconciliation. While a restored relationship always requires the cooperation of both parties, there are few (if any) of us who have fulfilled the command, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live at peace with all men.” (Romans 12:18) And our relationship with God is intrinsically connected to our relationships with our neighbors. True reconciliation requires that both of those areas thrive.

We must understand the hatred of the cross both in terms of the wrath of a holy God against the denial of His glory, and in the divide this has created between each one of us and our fellow man (or woman). Christ told us the greatest commandment was to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind,” and immediately followed that up with, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:37-38) We must not fool ourselves into thinking that we can do one and not the other, for to break any command of God is to stand in rebellion against His divine rule. To love Him is to love others.

"Christ Carrying the Cross" by El Greco (Doménikos Theotokópoulos), circa 1580

“Christ Carrying the Cross” by El Greco (Doménikos Theotokópoulos), circa 1580

Now, let us take the next step. The cross of Christ was not merely a protest statement. In fact, the love and hate of God are one and the same.

Consider the following question: Why reconciliation?  From a human perspective, sin did not necessitate Christ’s death. He could have allowed the punishment to fall upon us. There is a particularly sobering passage in Genesis that proves this point, speaking about the days before the Flood.

Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. The Lord was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart. The Lord said, ‘I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, from man to animals to creeping things and to birds of the sky; for I am sorry that I have made them.’

Genesis 6:5-7

It was an act of great mercy for God to spare Noah and his family from that judgment, and it is only by His grace that we are not instantly consumed. He would be well within His rights to send us straight to hell, and it would be a just response to the sin that permeates this world. Therefore, hate alone does not explain the cross. It is also about love, and the love necessitates the hate. Because He loves us, He hates to see us in such a state. Because He desires to commune with us, He chose reconciliation over damnation. It is in the very nature of God to seek this reconciliation, and we must conclude that it is to the greater promotion of His glory. He always planned for salvation to be made possible for all those who are called by His name. As the Apostle Paul wrote,

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.

Ephesians 1:3-6

Wonder of wonders, that God would make reconciliation possible! Wonder of wonders, that He would act in love and condescend to humanity: that both His love and justice should be satisfied in all perfection!

At the cross, the righteous hatred and righteous love of the one true God were brought together in a blissful union. This is how a just God can also be a God of grace. So if we are to hate as Christ hated, then we must act out of love for God and our fellow man, seeking to be reconciled. And if we are to love as Christ loves, then we must hate sin and its effects. We cannot simply accept the state of discord: we must strive, forever and always, for reconciliation. It was for the purpose of reconciliation that Christ went to the cross rather than remaining in the judgment seat, which is His rightful place.

It is not possible to be in a right relationship with God and not have done everything possible to achieve reconciliation with others. Such a sinful attitude hampers our communion with the Spirit. And while we may not always be successful in achieving that reconciliation, and certainly will not be successful if we try to do it under our own power, God desires to see in us a heart which longs for that reconciliation even as He does. He wants to see a heart that hates the way He hates.

So next time you look at the cross, remember that it is not only an act of pure love: it is also an act of pure hate. It is an act of ultimate defiance against the turmoil and division of this world. It is a rallying cry for reconciliation – not only that, but it provided the means of reconciliation. For only in that purest hate of God may we find the strength to love as He loves. Take up your cross of hate!

Unless otherwise noted, all scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, copyright The Lockman Foundation.

[1] Watts, Isaac. “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross”, Hymns and Spiritual Songs, 1707.

Other articles in this series:

#1 – Wars and Rumors of Wars

#2 – Discord

#3 – A Scriptural Imperative

#5 – The Age of Sacrifice

#6 – The First Step

#7 – Impossible Questions

#8 – True Love

#9 – A New (Old) Commandment

#10 – Truth with a Capital ‘T’

#11 – Christ is All in All

#12 – Awaken!

#13 – Another Path to Reconciliation?

#14 – Humble Rebellion

#15 – Those Who Live by Faith are Just