How Can God Who is Love also Hate?
1 John 4:8 KJV
He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.
It might seem a contradiction that a God who is love can also hate. Yet that’s exactly what Bible says is true: God is love (1 John 4:8), and God hates (Hosea 9:15). God’s nature is love—He always does what is best for others—and He hates what is contrary to His nature—He hates what is contrary to love.
No one should be surprised to learn that God does hate some things. He created us with the capacity to both love and hate, and we acknowledge that hatred is sometimes justified—we naturally hate things that destroy what we love. This is part of our being created in the image of God. The fact that we are all tainted with sin means that our love and hatred are sometimes misplaced, but the existence of the sin nature does not negate our God-given ability to love and hate. It is no contradiction for a human being to be able to love and hate, and neither is it a contradiction for God to be able to love and hate.
When the Bible does speak of God’s hatred, the object of His hatred is sin and wickedness. Among the things God hates are idolatry (Deuteronomy 12:31; 16:22), child sacrifice, sexual perversion (Leviticus 20:1–23), and those who do evil (Psalm 5:4–6; 11:5). Proverbs 6:16–19 lists seven things the Lord hates: pride, lying, murder, evil plots, those who love evil, false witnesses, and troublemakers. Notice that this passage does not include just things that God hates; it includes people as well. The reason is simple: sin cannot be separated from the sinner except by the forgiveness available in Christ alone. God hates lying, yes, but lying always involves a person—a liar—who chooses to lie. God cannot judge the lie without also judging the liar.
The Bible clearly teaches that God loves the people of the world (John 3:16). God spared wicked Nineveh, bringing them to repentance (Jonah 3). God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked (Ezekiel 18:32). He is patient to an extreme, “not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). This is all proof of love—God wants what is best for His creation. At the same time, Psalm 5:5 says about God, “You hate all evildoers” (ESV). Psalm 11:5 is even harsher: “The wicked, those who love violence, he hates with a passion.”
Before a person repents and believes in the Lord Jesus Christ, he is the enemy of God (Colossians 1:21). Yet, even before he is saved, he is loved by God (Romans 5:8)—i.e., God sacrificed His only begotten Son on his behalf. The question then becomes, what happens to someone who spurns God’s love, refuses to repent, and stubbornly clings to his sin? Answer: God will judge him, because God must judge sin, and that means judging the sinner. These are the “wicked” whom God hates—those who persist in their sin and rebellion, even in the face of the grace and mercy of God in Christ.
David writes, “You are not a God who delights in wickedness; evil may not dwell with you” (Psalm 5:4, ESV, emphasis added). By contrast, those who take refuge in God will “be glad” and “ever sing for joy” (verse 11). In fact, both Psalm 5 and Psalm 11 draw a stark contrast between the righteous (those who take refuge in God) and the wicked (those who rebel against God). The righteous and the wicked make different choices and have different destinies—one will see the ultimate expression of God’s love, and the other will know the ultimate expression of God’s hatred.
We cannot love with a perfect love, nor can we hate with a perfect hatred. But God can both love and hate perfectly, because He is God. God can hate without sinful intent. He can hate the sinner in a perfectly holy way and still lovingly forgive the sinner at the moment of repentance and faith (Malachi 1:3; Revelation 2:6; 2 Peter 3:9).
In His love for all, God has sent His Son to be the Savior. The wicked, who are still unforgiven, God hates “for their many sins, for they have rebelled” (Psalm 5:10). But—and this is important to understand—God desires that the wicked repent of their sin and find refuge in Christ. At the moment of saving faith, the wicked sinner is removed from the kingdom of darkness and transferred to the kingdom of love (see Colossians 1:13). All enmity is dissolved, all sin is removed, and all things are made new (see 2 Corinthians 5:17).