In one of my classes at Life Challenge, I issue an assignment called “Hate Work.” I ask the students to reflect on their lives and identify sources of pain from their past. “Who hurt you? What did they do (or not do)? How did it make you feel?”
It is a hard assignment. Strong emotions are usually aroused. Anger. Resentment. Hate.
I let them know that it’s okay. Hate is not only normal, it’s right. It’s healthy.
Hate is the appropriate response to someone who has wronged you, to someone who has committed an act of injustice towards you.
Yes, our perceptions are never completely accurate. We misjudge people and situations. Our biases, insecurities, temperament, self-justifying tendencies, and a host of other things can greatly skew our understanding of an action and cause us to feel things that may not necessarily be in accordance with reality.
But if my child is sexually violated by the babysitter or my wife is assaulted by a burglar, I am going to get mad. Angry. I am going to hate.
If my friend betrays me or my boss lies to me, I am going to get upset. Maybe irate. It all depends on what happened and my personal take on the actual events. And my hate is not going to be some general, diffused anger; it will be directed toward a particular person.
How can it be otherwise?
Hate is a signal that something is wrong. Love was denied or diminished. Relationship was violated. Covenant broken.
I’m not advocating that hate is a virtue to which we should aspire. I’m not suggesting that hate is a place where we want to camp out indefinitely. Nobody in their right mind would argue that hate in and of itself is a life-giving force.
But hate—the recognition and acceptance of—can get the process of recovery going. And more often than not, hate is at the bottom of addiction. Hate fuels dysfunctionality. It must go, but for that to happen, it must first be acknowledged.
I tell our residents, “Before you can get better, you have to get worse.” You have to feel. That is hard. You have to feel because you have to forgive, and you can’t forgive without feeling.
I agree with the late philosopher-theologian Lewis B. Smedes, “I worry about fast forgivers. They tend to forgive quickly in order to avoid their pain.”
I remember counseling a couple where the wife had recently been unfaithful to her husband. I was stunned by the man’s reaction: “Everything is ok. I love her. I have forgiven her.” There was no indication of any hurt or heartache on his part.
My only conclusion was that he was unwilling or unable to deal with the pain. It was easier to avoid the matter or simply play pretend. But that stance only postpones the blister that will eventually burst and bring devastation.
We have to feel if we are going to heal. We have to face reality—a reality that we might prefer to deny. And the facing of some parts of that reality will evoke hate.
Addiction superimposes an intoxication-induced impairment in feeling proper emotions, including hate. As a person sobers up, grudges and resentments that have been buried for years resurface. The role of treatment in recovery is not to diminish pain but to “channel such pain into the pathway of recovery” (William L. White). And so arises the hate.
I am glad Scripture gives us language to express our hate. We have a whole category of psalms called imprecatory (e.g., Ps. 5, 10, 17, 35, 58, 69, 70, 79, 137, 140). “Imprecate” means “to pray evil against, to invoke a curse upon.” Listen to these words from Ps. 137:
“Daughter Babylon, doomed to destruction, happy is the one who repays you according to what you have done to us. Happy is the one who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks” (vv. 8-9).
Such words can open up reservoirs of hostilities which may lie hidden deep in the psyche of a person. Sometimes we have to learn the language of affective expression before the actual experiencing of the emotion that goes with the language. That’s what the imprecatory psalms do—they kick-start the hate.
Author and former pastor Eugene Peterson writes, “Our hate needs to be prayed, not suppressed. We must pray who we actually are, not who we think we should be. Prayer does not legitimize hate–it uses it. It wakes us to our need for help. It moves us to pray.”
So let us pray.
It is time to do our hate work.
And begin the process of forgiving.
So that we can love.