Howard Thurman, Sentimental Christianity and Hatred

“Christianity has been almost sentimental in its effort to deal with hatred in human life. It has sought to get rid of hatred by preachments, by moralizing, by platitudinous judgments. It has hesitated to analyze the basis of hatred and to evaluate it in terms of its possible significance in the lives of people possessed by it.” ~ Howard Thurman

“You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason frankly with your neighbor, lest you incur sin because of him. ~ Leviticus 19.17

“Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all offenses.” ~ Proverb 10.12, ESV

“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” ~ Luke 14.26, ESV

“Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.” ~ First John 3.15, ESV

“If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.” ~ First John 4.20, ESV

Are these the verses that Rev. Thurman is referencing and describing?  What is it that Thurman was seeking exactly through a more in depth examination of hatred?  What question was he seeking to answer?  What judgment did he hope would be exacted?  Why have the biblical writers (and also God’s) responses to and treatment of hatred been described as a hesitation?

For me, the basis of hatred, the reason for its existence is simple, which might only add to Rev. Thurman’s criticism.  But, its simplicity does not detract from the fact that Christianity does have an answer no matter how inadequate it might appear and it points to a misplaced craving within us for more than what is necessary (e.g. anger, guilt, punishment).  Hatred is evidence of our death (i.e. separation from God), death not of body but of relationship to God and to all that God has created.  Persons possessed by death are dead women and men walking.

In our sinful state, we are separated from God whose name and nature are love.  We are able to hate because we do not “walk in love” (Ephesians 5.2).  Hatred determines if our witness is true.  It can make a liar out of us.  “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen” (First John 4.20).  It is also the basis by which we come to know who really loves God.  If you love Me, then you love your brother or sister.  If you do not, then your testimony is false.  You cannot love God and hate who He has created.  They are directly related, a packaged deal.  If you love Me, then you have to love them.

Our hatred is also evidence of the death of the one whom we have hated.  John tells us, “Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer.”  These are very strong words.  We have moved from a liar to a murderer, both of which will not enter the kingdom of heaven (First Corinthians 6.9-11).  Our hatred now places blood on our hands and we are now held responsible for the taking of a human life.  This is what hatred does.

In a twist, the writer of Ecclesiastes does not think hatred more important than any of the other matters of human life.  Hatred is not given any special treatment or placed in a category all its own.  It is included with all of the other experiences of life: birth and death, planting and plucking up, weeping and laughing, silence and sound, love and hate; there is a time for it all (3.1-8).  It is to be expected like everything else under heaven.

But, perhaps, Rev. Thurman’s analysis of the effects of hatred could be posed in the question, “What happens when that hatred is harbored for a long time, season after season, for hundreds of years?  Where does it go?”  We know that God is love.  We agree that God is deserving of and desires our love.  But to whom do we give our hatred?

The obvious answer for most Christians is the Devil.  “For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against rulers, against authorities, against cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in heavenly places” (Ephesians 6.12).  But, we want to stick it to “The Man”?  We want to make “them” pay?  There’s not much satisfaction in waging war on an enemy that we can’t feel.  We want to see blood.  We want to watch them suffer.  We want them to hurt as we have hurt, right?

But, for how long?  The problem with human beings serving as judges is that we don’t know how much is enough or when the punishment should end.  We don’t know when to stop judging and start forgiving.  We don’t know how long to hold on to our anger and when to let it go.

How many times must I forgive asked the disciple of Jesus (Matthew 18.21).  The same can be said of hatred, “How long can I hate?”  Or, “How long will I be hated?”  I join with the preacher in Ecclesiastes, “For everything, there is a season.”  And the times and seasons are changing; it is we who must accept it and change with it.

There is a time for hatred to be born and for it to die.  There is time for it to be planted and there is a time for it to be plucked up not in our neighbor but in us.  It must be uprooted in us.  It is time to heal, to build up, to laugh, to dance.  “Hate can not drive out hate; only love can do that,” Dr. King wisely told us.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer teaches us, “God’s truth judges created things out of love.  Satan’s truth judges things out of envy and hatred.”  Our love may be sentimental but God’s love is salvific; we must look to save our relationships with one another not destroy them.  We must be possessed by this love or be lead by the laws of Satan, condemned as we are condemning, dying as we murder.

I pray the words of St. Francis of Assisi, “Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace.  Where there is hatred, let me sow love.”  It’s time.  Amen.

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