If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14:26)
It sounds troubling to our ear. Aren't we supposed to love our neighbors, honor our parents, be peacemakers and get along with all men? Why then must we have hate before we can be Jesus's disciple?
Everyone who has studied another language will reach a point where they hear an expression and think, "why say it like that?" There are bizarre idoms - in English for example we have "Pardon my french" before cursing, "under the weather" to mean being sick, "cat got your tongue" when someone can't think of what to say, etc. But languages differ on how to say even the simplest of expressions. For people learning English, this is especially the case with phrasal verbs - we have "zone out" for our mind drifting from the present moment, we "kick back" to relax, we "hang up" the phone and "hang out" with our friends. None of these terms seem related to zones or kicking or hanging at all.
Simple words can have a good and bad meaning, like "proud" ("He takes pride in his work" vs "His pride causes him to look down on others") "easy" ("Take it easy" vs "she's an easy woman"), and "cool" vs "cold". We see this even in the KJV, where a word like "terrible" can strike us as oddly compared to how we use it now:
Nehemiah 1:5 And said, I beseech thee, O LORD God of heaven, the great and terrible God, that keepeth covenant and mercy for them that love him and observe his commandments...
Terrible means "awesome" (another word that has lost a lot of its meaning), inspiring reverence, astonishment, and awe.
What I am getting at? I want to suggest that when Jesus says to "hate" our family, friends, and our own life, COULD mean to despise, loathe, or detest; but it also could mean something else, which is to LOVE LESS. It is in this sense, of loving less, that the Jews would have understood it, as it would not make sense to loathe your own family.This is an idomatic expression in Hebrew, with the meaning being 'He who loves his father and mother MORE than me...he cannot be my disciple." We see this is the case in how Matthew writes this verse:
He that loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. (Matthew 10:37)
Can we find other examples of this?
And Jacob went in also unto Rachel, and he loved also Rachel more than Leah, and served with him yet seven other years. And when the LORD saw that Leah was hated, he opened her womb: but Rachel was barren.
And Leah conceived, and bare a son, and she called his name Reuben: for she said, Surely the LORD hath looked upon my affliction; now therefore my husband will love me. And she conceived again, and bare a son; and said, Because the LORD hath heard that I was hated, he hath therefore given me this son also: and she called his name Simeon. (Genesis 29:30-33)
Did Jacob hate Leah? Not in the sense that we would understand it - he still slept with her; he still kept her as his wife; he didn't mistreat her. We see clearly how she was hated: because Jacob loved her less than Rachel. There is a high sense of feeling in using word "hate" in this way; it is poetic and dramatic and powerful and cutting in a way that just saying "I am less loved" is not. It gives us much more a sense of the anguish that Rachel was going through. This is what Jesus is trying to convey here by telling us about what kind of love it would take to follow him.
Here is another example that Jesus uses:
No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon (riches, wealth; ).
This doesn't mean we should go out and burn our money and our posessions (particularly our nice posessions). Hebrews 13:5 says to be content with what we have. But the point is made clear later in the sermon on the mount:
Therefore take no thought, saying, "What shell we eat?" or "What shall we drink?" or "With what shall we be clothed?" [all things needing money] (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek) for your heavenly Father knows that you have need of all these things. But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. (Matthew 6:31-33)
God knows that we have financial needs, and He will take care of us if we serve Him. The key is to get our hearts to actually want to serve God, to wholeheartedly seek the kingdom of God and His righteousness. To do that we must love Him, and we can't love God when we are worrying over our riches and coveting more wealth. Where is our security to be found? In God, or in wealth? It is easy to say it is in God, but harder to actually believe... especially when we all have a terrible sin problem that makes us mistrust God and His ways and makes us uncertain if we really want to allow Him to do His will in us - would that really be safe? Better I take care of myself, that seems more tangible; that requires less seeking, less faith, and doesn't require me to submit in a manner that can seem humiliating (I speak as my carnal man would speak)
For the sinful nature is always hostile to God. It never did obey God’s laws, and it never will. (Romans 8:7 NLT)
...No one is seeking God. All have turned away... (Romans 2:11-12)
This truth about our carnal nature must always be the foundation of our study of God's word. By nature, it is us that hate God. So when we read things where it seems like God is being unfair, or asking too much of us, or hating us...let us remind ourselves...could this be written in a way that reflects my own projecting?
But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves. For if you listen to [or read] the word and don’t obey, it is like glancing at your face in a mirror. You see yourself, walk away, and forget what you look like. (James 1:23-24)
We don't want to follow God because we want to follow our own lusts, yet Jesus is speaking to all of us warning us that our lustful, selfish actions are going to be the cause of our destruction, and this troubles us...so how do we ignore the pangs of conviction, the feeling of guilt? We uses a psychological defense mechanism called rationalization:
❍ Despite knowing that smoking can lead to lung cancer, which is a life-threatening condition, smokers try to rationalize their ‘act’ by coming up with excuses like, only heavy smokers are at the risk of lung cancer, or that everyone must die some day, so why not enjoy life when you can.
❍ When parents punish their child for his ‘own good’, it need not necessarily be the case. At times, for instance, parents may punish the child for not studying well, and justify it by saying that if he doesn’t study he won’t get admission in a prestigious college. At the unconscious level, however, they might be more worried about how the child’s failure to get admission in a prestigious college will reflect on their social status.
Humans have great capacity for self-deception, especially when we see a guilty conscience as a sign of weakness. College age men, for example, are taught that one-night stands are a sign of power and success; we are often mocked if we reveal that we find it morally wrong or that it makes me feel guilty to throw away a woman so casually (and lie to her that I was looking for a long-term relationship). The ashamed young man is told: "That's what it is to be a man! You and your immature guilty conscience. You are still the prisoner of your ridiculous artificial morality and constrictive religious upbringing!"
Guilt is seen as the great enemy of doing what we want, of my gaining a position of respect and power among my peers - feeling guilty is seen as a weakness. And as God is often seen as the source of guilt (a complicated and misunderstood concept, as sin is the source of guilt but it is the spirit of God that makes us aware of sin...what God wants to do is heal guilt by removing the sin, not by removing the conviction of sin, which is Satan's method.), God must be removed, whether it be by rationalization as mentioned earlier, or its more sophisiticated brother, intellectualization:
Rationalization ought to be distinguished from another ego defence called intellectualization, by which the uncomfortable feelings associated with a problem are kept out of consciousness by thinking about the problem in cold, abstract, and esoteric terms.
Here's an example. An ambitious medical student once asked me whether she ought to take up a career in academic medicine, despite (or so it seemed) having already made up her mind on the matter. After raising some arguments in favor, I raised some arguments against, including that the vast majority of people engaged in medical research never go on to make a significant breakthrough. As she did not seem to be taking this argument on board, I asked her to name just one major breakthrough in psychiatric research in the past fifty years. Instead of naming a major breakthrough, or accepting that there had not been any, she resorted to questioning the definition of a breakthrough and even the value of making one—which may have been legitimate things to do, had she first accepted that there had not been any.
Here’s a second example of intellectualization. After being discharged from hospital, a middle-aged man who had almost died from a heart attack spent several hours a day on his computer researching the various risk factors of cardiovascular disease. He typed out long essays on each of these risk factors, printed them out, and filed them in a large binder with colour-coded dividers. After that, he became preoccupied with the vitamin and mineral contents in various kinds of food and devised a strict dietary regimen to ensure that he took in the recommended amounts of each and every micronutrient. Despite living on a shoestring budget, he spent a great deal of money on a high-end steamer on the basis that it could preserve vitamins through the cooking process. But not once did he consider cutting back on his much more harmful smoking habit...
Human beings are not rational, but rationalizing animals. If they find it frightening to think and painful to change, this is in large part because thinking and changing represent major threats to the beliefs that make up their sense of self. Given this state of affairs, any tectonic shift in a person's outlook is only ever going to occur incrementally and over a long period of time. Moreover, such a tectonic shift is likely to be provoked by an important deterioration in the person's circumstances which overwhelms his ego defences and leaves him with no alternative but to adopt the depressive or undefended position.
In Remembrance of Things Past, the early 20th century novelist Marcel Proust tells us, ‘Happiness is good for the body, but it is grief which develops the strengths of the mind.'
I don't mean by saying this that we are not allowed to question God; but rather to try to look at our own motivations regarding the things we read in the Bible and try to trust God more and trust ourselves less. God is good, and there should be a good answer for all our questions if we are sincere and study with the goal of obeying and submitting our will to Him - because we love God and believe that He wants whats best for us. That is the point of this whiole website!
With all this in mind, let us look at another verse regarding hating that can really strike us as God being unjust and unloving. Did God hate and reject Esau before he was even born?
But before they were born, before they had done anything good or bad, she received a message from God. (This message shows that God chooses people according to his own purposes; he calls people, but not according to their good or bad works.) She was told, “Your older son will serve your younger son.” In the words of the Scriptures, “I loved Jacob, but I hated [rejected] Esau.” (Romans 9:11-13)
We know from our previous study that this just means that God prefers Jacob to Esau. But did God really like one son more than the other? There is a story in the Bible of a man, Jacob, who loved his youngest son, Joseph, more than his other eleven sons. That open preference for his son, in giving Joseph a beautiful coat which no other son got, angered the other sons to jealousy. Is that what God is like? No, God loves all His sons equally. God's love is like the sun:
But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For He gives His sunlight to both the evil and the good, and He sends rain on the just and the unjust alike. If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that. But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect. (Matthew 5:44-48)
So if God loves all men, including His enemies, then why does it say He preferred Jacob? Because Jacob believed in God's love and blessing more than Esau, and thus Jacob received more blessing. Jacob was preferred in the sense that he realized more than Esau how blessed he was, though both were equally blessed (the difference was the recognition). "Many are called, few are chosen," because most men will not let themselves be chosen; they will not put themselves in a position to accept the gifts of God because they don't trust His gifts and don't trust His guiding their life. It was Esau and his descendants (for this passage in Romans is quoting Malachi 1 talking about Jacob and Esau as nations) who rejected and hated God, and when the inevitable fruit from rejecting God's law and His ways came - suffering (broken families because of not following God's family structure), famine (not following God's laws for farming), disease (not following God's laws for diet and hygiene), and finally death - they saw this is as God hating them and rejecting them, when God in actuality always loved them and was grieved to see them trapped in their own misjudgment and its fruit.
God's love is a constant stream coming from His throne, and the only reason any man is "loved more" by God is because that man responds to that love more - but in reality all men are having the same amount of love being poured upon them. We can compare this with trees in a certain area: they all are being rained on equally, but only the trees with the longest roots can receive and absorb the water.
God didn't love Jacob because Jacob did good works; as the the passage in Romans says, God loved Jacob before he was born making it not because of his good works that he was loved. But that brings up another question: How did God know that Esau would "despise the birthright" (Genesis 24:34) and that Jacob would appreciate it? That is an issue for another article or book. But what I will suggest is God knows our human psychology, and the consequences of actions and beliefs. When we look back at the story of Isaac and how he raised his children, we can see how the father's personality shapes his children. God knew what Isaac was like, and God knew how Isaac would treat his children (we remember that Isaac preferred the hunted food of Esau). That, along with the environment, the friends they would have, how Rebecca would raise them, etc.; and through all of these different variables God foresaw how Esau and Jacob would respond to His love.
Are we saying, then, that God was unfair? Of course not! For God said to Moses, “I will show mercy to anyone I choose, and I will show compassion to anyone I choose." So it is God who decides to show mercy. We can neither choose it nor work for it. For the Scriptures say that God told Pharaoh, “I have appointed you for the very purpose of displaying my power in you and to spread my fame throughout the earth.” So you see, God chooses to show mercy to some, and he chooses to harden the hearts of others. (Romans 9:14-18 NLT)
Once again we come to a confusing manner of expression. Are you, the reader, able to figure out what is meant here? If God doesn't love one person more than another, but actually the meaning is that we respond to His love more than another; then can you see that same principle here? God's mercy and compassion rain down on all equally; it is the man who "sees grace in the eyes of the LORD" (Genesis 6:8), like Noah, who realizes that mercy is being shown him and he accepts that mercy. We choose whether to respond to that love, or we choose whether to reject that love. And as we judge, we wil be judged (Matthew 7:2). God will respect our decision; that is how God chooses. He won't force his mercy on people; He won't force people's hearts to unharden. And though man hardens his hearts, God will use that to bless those who choose to see grace. And thus:
We know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. For whom He did foreknow, He also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of His Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He did predestinate, them He also called: and whom He called, them he also justified: and whom He justified, them He also glorified.
What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us?
He that spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? (Romans 8:28-32)
This is the process God has for every man. But we can at any time choose not to go through with the process, and God will let us (though it grieves him terribly).Those who choose their own way, God hardens by continually calling them back, which they continually reject (Thus can God harden Pharaoh's heart and Pharaoh also harden his own heart). All things are done according to His will, which is to do everything He can to give us the freedom to make a decision.
Let us rejoice in the light God has given us, and live up to it - glorifying the Father through Christ in us through the work of saving our fellow man. We can become vessels through whom God can share the gospel of peace and reconciliation, that all men may hear more clearly the voice of their Father calling them and believe that there is love and good will in that call, and thereby choose to beieve that God is love and that God loves them. As Jesus said, "I have kept My Father's commandments, and abide in His love." (John 15:10)