Mark Driscoll created another controversy recently in a sermon when he told his listeners that God hates some of them.
Some of you, God hates you. Some of you, God is sick of you. God is frustrated with you. God is wearied by you. God has suffered long enough with you. He doesn’t think you’re cute. He doesn’t think it’s funny. He doesn’t think your excuse is “meritous.”. He doesn’t care if you compare yourself to someone worse than you, He hates them too. God hates, right now, personally, objectively hates some of you.
Driscoll specifically attacked the old adage that “God hates the sin but loves the sinner,” explaining that this saying was not Biblical, but was actually from Gandhi (who is in hell, Driscoll made sure to clarify, because he’s not Christian). Driscoll then stated emphatically, “God doesn’t just hate what you do; He hates who you are.” He then proceeded to prooftext some psalms where it says that God hates “evildoers” (rather than just “evil-doing”), clear evidence that God doesn’t love everybody, which is apparently the most important thing that Mark Driscoll has to teach us about God.
If you’re wondering where in the world this guy is coming from, he’s the product of a form of theology which defines God’s holiness as an intolerance for imperfection: because God is infinitely perfect, things we do that don’t seem like a big deal to us are a big deal to Him. So because God is a perfectionist, He hates His fallen creatures more than He loves them, but His hate is deflected from a certain subset of people who He picked out before the beginning of time because He got to shoot out their portion of His wrath all over His son on the cross instead.
I guess it might make me hell-bound in Driscoll’s eye, but I tend to be a more of a “God hates the sin but loves the sinner” kind of Christian. I know that the closer I grow to God, the more I hate my own sin, but I’ve also found that God wins the trust necessary for me to hate my sin by loving me unconditionally so that my eyes can be opened. When I’m hard-headed, God often breaks me with His wrath, but it’s because He loves me, not because His need for immaculateness supersedes His desire to draw me (kicking and screaming) into perfect communion with Him. God hates sin because He loves us and wants to be absolutely intimate with us, which is impossible as long as we “love darkness instead of light because [our] deeds are evil” (John 3:19). Where people go wrong in my opinion is when they see God’s wrath and God’s love as binary opposites instead of interdependent qualities that work together to achieve the same purpose, like a hard-nosed football coach who reams out his quarterback ruthlessly in practice to make him tough, but holds him for five minutes without a word while he sobs after losing a close game.
That aside, let’s say that Mark Driscoll is right and that God really does hate certain people to the bone and has no useful purpose for creating them other than to use them as “objects of wrath,” like the pharaoh of Egypt (Exodus 5-11) and the Assyrian emperor (Isaiah 8), who oppress God’s people in order to give their faith journey meaning. If this is true, then we ought to gain some idea of who God hates by looking at who Jesus hates since “anyone who has seen [Jesus] has seen the Father” (John 14:9).
Who did Jesus hate? Was it the tax collectors who were cheating people out of their money? Was it the prostitutes who spread disease and wrecked families by dishonoring the sacred act that God gave to humanity for our physical intimacy? Was it the Samaritans who worshiped a whole buffet of gods along with the Jewish God Yahweh? None of the above. Jesus wasn’t always nice to people. But there was only one set of people whom He told, “You belong to your father, the devil” (John 8:44), whom He referred to as “child[ren] of hell” (Matthew 23:15), and whom He said were on their way to “being condemned to hell” (Matthew 23:33). Jesus had a lot of interactions with people who had done bad things, but He did not use extremely inflammatory language like this about anyone besides the Pharisees (except perhaps for calling his best friend Peter “Satan” when he was being a tool and calling a Syrophoenician woman !@#$%^&* which I still have no adequate explanation for).
It probably isn’t a very original observation to say that most of what is wrong with American Christianity today is that we have become like the Pharisees Jesus hated. I really believe that a major part of what the gospels are supposed to teach us is how not to be a Pharisee (a lesson that few American Christians seem interested in learning). What is it about the Pharisees that made Jesus hate them so much? Now someone will say, “Well, of course, the Pharisees were wrong, they didn’t believe in Jesus, end of story,” as though this one distinction invalidates any attempt to make an analogous comparison between Pharisees then and Christians today who act like them.
What does Jesus Himself say about why He hates the Pharisees? Let’s take a look at Matthew 23 where He goes off on a tirade against them.
Everything they do is done for people to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long; they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues.
Phylacteries were little pouches that Pharisees wore on their arms which were filled with Bible verses, following the injunction in Deuteronomy 11:18 to “tie [the words of Torah] as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads.” The writer of Deuteronomy was being figurative about the need to “fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds,” but the Pharisees exploited this as an opportunity to engage in a piety competition which had nothing to do with devoting themselves to Torah and everything to do with showing other people how devoted they were to the Torah. As Jesus says, “Everything they do is done for people to see.” There are people like this in our churches who need everyone else to see how enthusiastic they are about praising God and hear how Biblically literate they are. Guess what? Jesus can’t stand you!
Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to. [v. 13]
Some people feel like their role in the body of Christ is to be the gatekeepers of the kingdom of heaven especially if it involves being “politically incorrect” (which purportedly gets you bonus points with God for “standing in the gap” against “worldly compromise”). If you get a rush out of telling other people off in the name of Jesus, then it’s important to examine whether you simply relish the power of being a self-appointed bouncer for heaven. As Jesus says here, when what you live for is shutting the door of heaven in other peoples’ faces, you end up shutting yourself out of His kingdom.
Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when you have succeeded, you make them twice as much a child of hell as you are. [v. 15]
Evangelism as conquest is an abomination and blasphemy to the name of God. When your purpose in sharing the gospel with others is to make them “twice as much a child of hell as you are,” then you are not really sharing the gospel, despite the fact that you might be quoting words from the Bible and tallying up how many people you strong-arm into praying Jesus into their hearts. The good news is that God uses even our miserable, abominable sinful misrepresentation of Him to His glory. Despite the fact that European civilization used Christian evangelism as the pretext for conquering and enslaving millions of people over half a millennium, God worked anyway to develop a version of Christianity in the cotton fields of the southern United States and the sugarcane plantations of Latin America that had way more integrity than the Christianity that masters used to justify beating their slaves. When this real Christianity is allowed to evangelize a modern-day Pharisee who thinks he’s got it already figured out, then a child of hell gets rescued (or at least that’s what happened to me).
Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. [v. 23]
So what do Christians in our day do instead of justice, mercy, and faithfulness? Much of what we call “morality” today serves the purpose of being an alternative to justice, mercy, faithfulness.
Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. [v. 27]
Evangelicals today are very good at calling out works-righteousness, but the way we set ourselves apart as Christians is often in terms of our own set of “Thou shalt nots” which have more to do with middle-class social values (no drinking, no sex, no cussing) than Biblical priorities. The point of realizing what Jesus has done for us is so that we can experience an inner transformation and be filled with the fruits of the Spirit: “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23). How we conduct ourselves on the outside is secondary to the internal surrender to God that produces these fruits.
Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You build tombs for the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous. And you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ So you testify against yourselves that you are the descendants of those who murdered the prophets. Go ahead, then, and complete what your ancestors started! [vv. 29-32]
So many evangelicals today revere the prophets of our past like Martin Luther and John Calvin, who were very controversial and unpopular in their day, but then ferociously attack the prophets of today. Who would Martin Luther and John Calvin be in our context? Or have we arrived at the “end of history” where we’ve finally gotten everything right and there’s nothing left to critique? Every age the church goes through has its own stagnation, worldly idolatries, and heresies, which create a need for prophetic critics. That doesn’t mean that everyone criticizing the church today is a legitimate prophet, but we should be listening very closely to the way that God is calling us to task for our idolatries and heresies. And it may be the case that the shrillest of the discernmentalists are the biggest heretics of all.
So in conclusion, I would say that Mark Driscoll is right in a way: Jesus hates Pharisees because they dedicate their lives to sabotaging His mission of sharing God’s love with the world. In trying to be the ultimate insiders, they become the ultimate counter-revolutionaries. Another way of saying this is God hates people who hate His grace (even if they’re in love with their doctrine of grace).
But… I don’t think Pharisees have to stay Pharisee. At least I know that every time I start to act like a Pharisee, God pours out His wrath on me and helps me remember that I’m just a worthless Samaritan without Him, but part of something more beautiful than I could ever be on my own because of His grace.