I finished a fencing job the other day. It’s something I’ve only just learned how to do, and I’d poked holes and spliced and stretched wire alongside a mile or so of road. It felt good to be done. A light snow was starting; I had a hole in my sleeve. It was time to feel satisfied, and I was ready to, except that, when I turned to my wheelbarrow, my budding sense of achievement was abruptly cut off.
I had, you see, an extra role of wire.
Objectively, that’s no big deal—I’ll use it for something else. But right away, before I could think anything else, I heard the loud voice of hatred conclude: “You idiot—you planned wrong again.” I refused the voice, I told it to be silent in the name of Jesus, and started home. And I wouldn’t have thought much about it, except that I’ve become aware that a lot of my mental bandwidth goes to resisting hatred these days.
My dog eats another package. I feel mad, much madder than I should. A friend sends me a curt message. I feel opposed and defensive. I read an article about how great South Korean pandemic “unfreedom” is, and I feel so mad I have to work, really work, to come back to love.
I don’t think I’m the only one feeling that way, because hatred is everywhere. It is an emotion and an environment and fruit society cultivates. And it is an ascendant spiritual power. I want you to how it operates. Most of all, I want you to know how to resist it.
So let’s start here:
Do you follow tennis?
I don’t. But I did see the story about Novak Djokovic.
You know the one: the best tennis player in the world who was allowed a vaccine exemption in order to play in the Australian Open…or maybe not? Wait… yes! Then…no. Until at last, after a sojourn in an immigration hotel, he was deported. I don’t think you’ll be surprised by the tone of the journalism surrounding the event, a tone best summed up by a Newsweek article: “Outraged Australians Rail Against Novak Djokovic's Court Victory.”
Outrage. Railing. Of course. It reminded me of the title of another vaccine-related article, a New York Times op-ed, “I’m Furious at the Unvaccinated.” That article included this memorable line: “So yes, I am furious at the unvaccinated, and I am not ashamed of disclosing that. I am no longer trying to understand them or educate them.”
And it’s not only members of the regnant ideological left who are furious, and the feeling isn’t new. Back in 2016, a report from the Southern Poverty Law Center found that the number of hate groups rose by 14% the previous year. They called it “The Year of Hatred” and tried to explain why there was such an astonishing number of active KKK groups, a number that was rivaled—but not quite matched—by the number of Black Separatist groups. A related Washington Post article wondered, “Why Are Americans So Angry?”
Why indeed. There are plenty of professional explanations out there—some of them very good. They address tribalism, the overproduction of elites, the natural limits of civilization, perceived instability, technological catalysts, internet laws (heard of Poe's?), all that. For the purposes of this essay to you, our friends, it’s enough to know that hatred is endemic and dangerous.
This is the second installment in a series of such dangers. The first is Fear. The last is Despair. Here in the middle, I wanted to review something I overlooked in part one, namely, something emotions do.
If you haven’t read Jim Wilder’s book Renovated yet, you should. It makes a very good case that a person’s character is only transformed by directly experiencing God. At one point, Wilder makes a very surprising claim: all emotions build secure relationships.
All emotions. It's easier to see how that works with the positive emotions, but it's true of the lot. When someone is happy, we feel secure. When someone is sad, we’re moved to comfort them. When others comfort us, our value is affirmed. A secure relationship is one in which people know that they’re loved, and where they stand, and what they can expect. Emotions form those; they help us share a sense of reality.
What about anger?
Anger's important. Anger validates a person’s sense of self. When I tell my friend that I was cut off on the highway, and he stops and looks surprised and says, “Really?” I’m reminded that I count. I get to exist in God’s universe, same as everyone else. Anger also clarifies the terms of a relationship. When I ignore a friend, and he expresses frustration, I get to see that I matter, and I get to have a frank conversation about the terms and nature of a friendship. Anger does many things. It orients a person towards injustice. It helps a community map out right and wrong.
But anger is powerful and it can be misapplied everywhere. It tempts a person to react, often in a violent way. While anger is good at identifying injustice, it’s bad at proposing solutions. As far as I know, the only solution anger proposes is destroy. Stop the music. Cut the crap. End the project. Hush up. Those aren’t good solutions. Anger is like fire, in which case, maturity’s a sturdy stove. The more maturity a person possesses, the more their anger can build stable relationships. The less maturity a person possesses, the more damage their anger can do.
Anger has to be addressed. If it isn’t, it will fester, and turn into something else. Something worse.
Why this long note on the emotion?
Because hatred is fear and anger left to rot in the sun. And right now everybody’s angry.
Have you heard of the Great Rude? It's a phrase the writer Derek Thomson used to describe the tone of 2021: "Airlines in the United States reported that, by June 2021, the number of unruly passengers had already broken records—doubling the previous all-time pace of orneriness. The Atlantic writer Amanda Mull has chronicled America’s epidemic of bad behavior, from Trader Joe’s tirades to a poor Cape Cod restaurant that had to close briefly in the hope that its clientele would calm down after a few days in the time-out box. Cabin-fevered and filled with rage, American customers have poured into the late-pandemic economy with abandon, like the unfurling of so many angry pinched hoses."
True enough. And though cabin fever and political polarization partly explain what's going on, I believe the fault lines go much deeper: we’re living in a time when human salvation strategies are failing en masse, and it ticks folks right off.
You can pick any part of society and see it happening in real time. Another salvation strategy fails, and anger slides another notch toward hatred.
Take journalism. I remember how, after the 2016 elections, journalists doubled-down on their commitment to “transparency,” even creating new fact-checking organizations that would validate “trustworthy news.” Their salvation strategy was simple, if naive: transparency would solve everything. Unfortunately, the effect has been a decrease in trustworthy news and an increase in censorship—visible, say in an open letter to Harpers signed by an astonishing number of prominent writers calling for a more free exchange of ideas. How’s someone who cares about reality supposed to respond to that?
Or how about climate change activism? As a hunter and someone who cares a lot about the natural world, I recently checked out Christiana Figueres and Tom Rivett-Carnac’s book, The Future We Choose. It opens with two dire and looming deadlines: 2030 (the date by which emissions must be cut by 50%) and 2050 (the net zero deadline). Suffice it to say, we’re behind in our efforts to meet those deadlines, and most climate change activists now believe there’s no hope for the planet, a message you can find everywhere. Back in the day, the activist's salvation strategy was something like “inform people and they’ll change” or “outrage people and they’ll change.” Neither strategy achieved good results. Human nature cannot be pushed. It must be pulled. It must be allured. Pull and allure are inefficient tools. Hopeless, when you’re up against the clock. How’s a person who follows that story supposed to love humanity?
People are intractable. Bonhoeffer saw the problem decades ago. “The great masquerade of evil has wrought havoc with all our ethical preconceptions," he wrote. "This appearance of evil in the guise of light, beneficence and historical necessity is utterly bewildering to anyone nurtured in our traditional ethical systems. But for the Christian who frames his life on the Bible it simply confirms the radical evilness of evil.”
Meaning, it’s hard not to be overwhelmed by how naive, proud, overbearing, irrational, and violent human beings can be. We’re living in a time of rough disillusionment, and one of the long-term effects of that disillusionment has been endemic hatred.
What does hatred do?
It protects a person, only, in a terrible and ineffective way. Hating people are always hurting. They are, in fact, mortally wounded. The psychologist Dan Allender said that hatred is a form of self-soothing. If I hate, I don’t have to feel the grief of my experience. In fact, even self-hatred is a form of self-protection. If I condemn myself, no other person can; if I judge myself, I’m covered, albeit with terrible blanket. In Les Miserables, the protagonist Jean Val Jean hates because he’s exploited and powerless. Victor Hugo puts his insight this way: “During the years of suffering he reached the conclusion that life was war in which he was one of the defeated. Hatred was his only weapon, and he resolved to sharpen it in prison and carry it with him when he left.”
Of course, hatred doesn’t work. It doesn't protect anyone. It belongs to the realm of the demonic*.
The hatred we see and experience and—unfortunately—participate in, belongs to the realm of evil. It is not a good response to the world. It is not a safe motive power. As GK Chesterton put it, “The true soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him.”
Lucky for us, we have good alternatives, but we do have to do a few things if we’re going to survive in an environment that is saturated with hatred. Those things take time, which is why we’re always telling people to slow down.
The easy things come first: get off social media, which is designed to aggravate a person and turn them into a hating machine. Limit your news intake, because news organizations serve the same fear-mongering algorithmic overlords.
But what about your heart, which Jesus cares so much about? These days I find myself following the following steps:
Lament and grieve. Lamenting and grieving go hand in hand. When we lament, we name the pain. When we grieve, we feel it. What’s most alarming to you about the state of the world? Which parties scare you the most? Bring them to God. Rather than letting your anger stew, vent in prayer. It’s okay to admit, “I’m pissed.” Invite God into a conversation about the things that scare you, knowing that he hears you and is attuned to your hurt.
Forgive. Learning to forgive is an ongoing skill, and there’s a lot involved. It starts with lament, which, lucky for us, we’ve already done. Next comes canceling the debt, which means that we let God erase all record of wrongs done against us. But there's an important part, a part enabled by the work of Jesus, in which you ask Jesus to give you directly what he could have given you through people, except, those people failed. I always have to forgive human rulers, whoever they are. And after I’ve lamented the loss and canceled the debt, I ask God to bring to me covering, prudence, wisdom, and leadership. What have you lost that you need Jesus to give you?
Remember the vision. If we’re going to love, we’ve got to love from abundance. An excess of vision. An overflow of love. To get those, we need a robust vision of Jesus. Of his power to save. Of his heart for the world. Of his ability to reconcile all things through himself. We need a regular experience of God.
So on this point, I have a very simple recommendation: ask yourself what it was that first made you fall in love with Jesus. And then do it again.
Honestly though. How did it happen? How did you see Jesus? Was it in nature? In scripture? In good books? Cigars and conversation with friends? The power of prayer? When you remember, do those things again. Honestly, I have to remind myself on an almost quarterly basis which practices renew my vision of Jesus. I like Brian Hardin’s Daily Audio Bible. I like mountain biking. I like playing with my kids. I like books (right now, it’s Arthur McGill’s Suffering: A Test of Theological Method) and walks and hunting. It will help you to live the life of a lover, to remind yourself why you put your hand up in the first place and jumped on board with Jesus’ salvation project. And then do to those things often.
Oh. One more thing
Pray against hatred. Hatred and despair are the horses that pull the chariot on which the antichrist spirit arrives, and we as followers of Christ are not immune to its influence. Bind hatred from your relationships. From your world, and work, and your own heart. In a climate of vitriol, you'll have to pray often. Here’s a prompt to get you started.
I belong to Jesus, the same Jesus who disarmed the powers and authorities and made a public spectacle of them in the cross (Colossians 2:15). He has been seated at the right hand of the Father, above every name that can be named, both in this age and in the age that is coming (Ephesians 1:21). His spirit is in me (Joel 2:28). I keep the work of Jesus between me and the world, and between me and every spirit of hatred. I bind every spirit of hatred from my life, and my home, and my work, in the authority of Jesus (Luke 10:17). I pray that the blood of Jesus would cleanse my life (1 John 2:2). And I invoke the hope, and joy, and rest, and vision, of God. I pray for a clear vision of Jesus to sustain me in these days.
* We could say hatred belongs almost exclusively to the demonic. “Almost” because there are early admonitions, such as that from St. Gregory of Nyssa, to hate only evil, which means that hatred has an appropriate object: demonic evil. But, as CS Lewis wrote in Perelandra, few people ever succeed in identifying that object, in differentiating the sinner from the sin, the demon from the institution. A holy hatred of evil does not resemble, at all, an evil hatred of the holy. I doubt many of us would recognize it, especially because the ultimate victory against evil is visible in the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus.