I would like to begin a new blog series on things I used to believe. This will cover some of the most extreme notions I was taught and why I broke free from their bondage. Some of this will be quite disturbing, some if it quite vexing, and other stuff will be downright laughable. But I’m hoping, not only to examine these things and provide good reason for rejecting them, but I am always wanting to provide us with a gracious model for engaging people who believe quite differently than us.
A friend recently relayed a conversation he had with a fellow Christian concerning the theological/moral implications of telling children God loves them. For most of us this seems like a given – God loves everyone, especially children. But for a small (and notoriously loud) wing in the Reformed tradition, God hates not only unregenerate (unsaved) children, but also all who are not chosen by God for salvation.*
As an impressionable college student with Reformed theological assumptions I came under the teaching of a man who taught this very thing. According to Psalm 5:5, he would say, God hates ALL workers of iniquity. This means God hates everyone because everyone has fallen short of the glory of God and sinned. We are all workers of iniquity and therefore God hates us. All. of. us.
The only way, according to this man, to escape the hatred of God lies in repentance, which in itself has nothing to do with your choice, but lies solely in the foreordained plan of the sovereign God. In other words, God hates everyone, but will come to love those whom He has chosen for Himself. At the point of their acceptance of Christ, God begins to love them.
Thus, according to this preacher, we should never tell children that God loves them. We should never tell a non-Christian this either. God hates them because they are sinners.
After first accepting this teaching, it wasn’t long before I began to ask serious questions. How could the very God who tells us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us turn around and hypocritically hate His enemies? How could Jesus tell us that loving our enemies reflects the character of God, but then He himself hates all those who refuse to believe in Him?
Or, what about the legitimacy of interpreting Psalm 5:5 that way?
The Psalms belong to the literary genre of poetry. We’ve all read poetry. We all know that poetry is prone to exaggeration for the sake of producing strong emotions in the reader and hearer. This is exactly what we find in Psalm 5:5 – The writer is using hyperbolic language (the native language of poetry) to make a point about God’s distaste for sin and His just wrath on those who commit sin. He is NOT, NOT, NOT intending to make a literal statement about God hating his enemies. Nobody reads the Psalms literally. Not even Fundamentalists. And if the Psalms are ever to be read literally, the place to begin reading them in such a way is certainly not Psalm 5:5. **
Does God love children? Yes. Does God love all His enemies? Yes.
Friends, while we were yet sinners Christ died for us! Let the little children come to him! God so loved the world – the entire cosmos marred by sin – that He sent His only Son. His love universally invites all to participate in its beauty. This is more than just a doctrinal debate. This is the heart of Christianity because it sets on display the heart of the God of Christianity. Now, let us love children and enemies in reflection of the heart of the Triune God!
*I would like to be clear here that these people are to be distinguished from the God Hates Fags crew. While they both believe that God hates unbelievers, these people do not protest gay funerals. Rather, they place God’s hatred in the larger paradigm of Total Depravity, not individual manifestations of Total Depravity.
**My whole point in this part of the discussion is not only to demonstrate the incorrect interpretation of Psalm 5:5, but also to demonstrate that simply citing a Bible verse without regard for genre and context CAN ONLY end in misrepresenting what the verse actually means. This is why I, myself, am never a fan of just citing a verse to prove my point – the context always matters.