PERSPECTIVES ON SLANDER AND HATRED
Top-selling American fiction writer, John Grisham, remarked early on in his book The Pelican Brief that “hatred is America’s favourite pastime.” Verbs such as despise, detest, revile, reproach and slander all convey different levels of intolerance, hostility, rejection and condemnation. It is self-evident from a cursory glance or scrolling that such thinking permeates our media and our screens. It agitates, incites, antagonises, demonises and, if we allow it, it poisons our lives. Of course, we live in a fallen world which has been burdened by such poison since the time of Adam and Eve.
Ecclesiastes [chapter 3] famously declares that there is a “time for everything and a season for every activity under heaven…. A time to love and a time to hate.”
To express hatred is to express condemnation in the strongest possible way. Depending who you are, hate speech is a punishable offence in South Africa. Proverbs chapter 6, verses 16 to 19 lays down unambiguously seven things the Lord hates and detests: “haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush into evil, a false witness, a man who stirs up dissension.” For, as he states in Exodus chapter 20, verse 5, “I am a jealous God.” He despises disobedience and disrespect. As with the Ten Commandments, he lays down absolute guidelines for the conduct of obedience. In Leviticus, chapter 26, verses 14 to 19, God is emphatic about his wrath towards disobedience
If you will not listen to me and carry
out all these commands and if you reject
my decrees and abhor my laws……then I will
bring upon you terror, wasting diseases and
fever that will destroy your life…..those who
hate you will rule over you….I will punish
you for your sins seven times over….
What is significant here is the absolutism of God’s will and his conditions. The words quoted above are a limited excerpt of his warnings and promises of punishment as set out in chapter 26 of Leviticus. Nevertheless, they constitute his terms and conditions and the consequences of succumbing to evil and temptation and of straying from God’s precepts.
But in the same chapter of Leviticus, God promises rewards for obedience: rain in season, abundant crops, peace and security. “I will look on you with favour and make you fruitful,” He declares (verses 4-9). So there is a covenant or a contract which runs through the Old Testament as God’s people flourish or fail, obey and disobey, are rewarded or punished.
ESTABLISHING A DISTINCTION
So where is this sermon going in terms of the subject of slander and hatred? The purpose of what is stated above is to establish a distinction between the hatred God expresses and the hatred man generates. The latter will be considered later.
God’s expression of hatred is based on righteousness and the holiness which is his very being. It is his revulsion towards anything and everything that violates his sanctity, for it is impossible for God to express anything less than rejection and hatred for what is not righteous. Seen in the wider context of Satan’s quest to overthrow God and to enthrone himself as the Lord of the universe, God’s warnings to man of dire punishment for disobedience should be understandable, given the fate that awaits Satan himself: He will be thrown into the lake of burning sulphur where he will be tormented for ever, as Revelations tells us in chapter20, verse10. Hence Jesus’s warning: “Be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell,” (Mt. 10: 28)
Conflict between good and evil is an on-going reality in our fallen world. Yet it is also a reality that the righteous are more despised and subjected to greater affliction and suffering. Job, in the Old Testament is a stirring example. Not only was he materially dispossessed and his offspring tragically killed, but he was afflicted by a terrible skin disease. His wife was so appalled by this that she urged Job to curse and denounce God. But Job rebuked her with the words “shall we accept good from God and not trouble?” (Job 2: 9-10) For his faithfulness to God, Job was generously rewarded. The saints and martyrs endured appalling persecution and suffering because they were hated for their faith in God. Yet they remained steadfast. As Psalm 34, verse 22 states: “The Lord redeems his servants who take refuge in him.”
Jesus gives us the true perspective and context of what confronts the righteous in this life. Here are his words from John chapter 15, verses 18 to 21: If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you…..If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also….They will treat you in this way because of my name.
Jesus endured persecution, slander and hatred in his public life right through to his agony on the cross. He suffered rejection in his home town of Nazareth where an attempt was made to kill him by throwing him over a cliff (Luke: 4: 24-30). He was subjected to the cynicism and scepticism of the learned of his day – the Pharisees and their ilk – rejection that evolved into the decision to have him executed (Mt 12: 14).
In distinguishing between “clean” and “unclean,” Jesus said: “What goes into a man’s mouth does not make him unclean, but what comes out of his mouth is what makes him unclean….The things that come out of the mouth come from the heart…. For out of the heart come evil thoughts: murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander” (Mt 15: 11; 18-19).
Just as God the Father vented his wrath against disobedience, so Jesus was scathing in condemning the hypocrisy of the Pharisees. What thunders in Jesus’s words is his righteousness, his abhorrence of those who pervert his Father’s law. Consider these excerpts from Matthew, chapter 23:
Woe to you, teachers of the law and
Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the
Kingdom of heaven in men’s faces…. You
blind fools….full of greed and self-indulgence.
You are like white-washed tombs, which
look beautiful on the outside but on the
inside are full of dead men’s bones and
everything unclean. In the same way, on
the outside you appear to people as righteous
but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy
and wickedness. You snakes, you brood of vipers!
How will you escape being condemned to hell?
How do we balance that with Jesus’s command that we should “love our enemies and pray for those who persecute you?” (Mt 5: 44)
The basis of Jesus’s righteous anger is the fact that for all their learning, the Pharisees were unwilling to recognise who Jesus is. They stonewalled him and his message. In making his case for their consignment to damnation, Jesus reminded them of the prophets they had ignored and killed. It angered him that the religious leadership of God’s chosen people were in denial of who he is and actively opposed the spread of the good news he preached. Jesus’s expression of righteous hatred towards the Pharisees is therefore premised on scriptural history and the Pharisees’ role in poisoning the minds of the people.
Thus, we need to distinguish between sins and sinners, condemnation and forgiveness. Jesus condemned those who through their knowledge of the scriptures should have recognised him, yet despised him and wilfully rejected him. Similarly, he condemned Korazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum for refusing to appreciate who he is and rejecting him (Lk 10: 13-15). But he did not condemn or express hate towards those who crucified him. Instead he sought forgiveness for them with the words: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing,” (Lk 23: 34). In the same way Jesus dispensed mercy to the repentant thief on the cross next to him (Lk 23: 43).
So, how do we navigate through life inflamed by controversy and slander which becomes the basis of hatred? Obviously, that depends on the choice we make. We can choose to belong to the world, go with the flow and allow its chorus of slander and hatred to influence us. Or, we can try to adhere to the righteousness of Jesus.
In the big picture of things, three issues stand out as generating the greatest outpouring of controversy and hatred in modern times. They concern Donald Trump, Brexit and multiculturalism. Supporters and opponents have whipped up emotions. Hillary Clinton branded supporters of Trump as “deplorables.” Threats and dire warnings colour the question of whether or not the UK should exit the European Union. Falsehoods and recrimination preoccupy and poison the minds of millions. Righteous perspectives are under siege. And facilitating it all is the immediacy of the internet and cellphones. So when the spread of a message in the media is said to have gone “viral,” we need to remind ourselves that the stem of that word is “virus,” which means contagion, venom, poison.
Beyond prayer, there is little we can do about the state of the big picture. But its prevalence poses great harm to our personal lives. This is apparent to anyone who surfs the internet. The immediacy of the technology involved facilitates loose comments and statements; character assassination and vilification. Slander and hatred. Victims have been known to lapse into depression and even become suicidal as a result.
To be despised and slandered is a very hurtful experience. Worse still, it may result in becoming consumed by hatred of the perpetrators.
A PERSONAL EXPERIENCE
Let me give you an example from personal experience. In the last five years of my membership of the political party of which I was a member, I was subjected to an agenda of vilification driven by an influential individual. First, I was falsely accused of misappropriating R5,000. For two years the accusation was batted back and forth before it was finally dismissed as false. Then the same individual conspired with her supporters to have me removed based on a series of charges all of which were dismissed as unfounded after a marathon hearing. Then the day before the 2014 election, she sabotaged my roster of 34 party agents which I had painstakingly compiled. In turn, I used the same mechanisms in the party in a bid to have her removed from the position she held and for her to be severely censured. But nothing came of my efforts which simply aggravated my attitude and frustration.
As a result of those experiences I harboured hatred for this person. It became a cancer festering in my mind. When I saw a similar model car to the one she drove, it reminded me of her. I loathed that model car – not for any mechanical reasons but purely because I associated the car with her. News of upset in her domestic life brought a sense of satisfaction – you know, what goes around comes around. A sense of schadenfreude – rejoicing at the harm someone else suffers. This experience corroded my feelings for the party as a whole and was a major contributing factor to my resignation from it in August 2016.
Although she was out of my life, she was not out of my mind. The poison lingered. News relayed to me about her rekindled the loathing I felt for her. I avoided her when occasions such as IEC meetings in advance of the recent election required us to be in the same room. But on May 9 this year, the day after the election, all that changed.
At the IEC election results centre in Mayville, my party’s desk was located directly behind her party’s desk. She happened to be on duty for her party and was sitting directly in front of me. I found the prospect of having to be in such close proximity very uncomfortable. Then it came to me: make peace with her. End this feud. End the negative preoccupation. So, I got up and went around to her desk and greeted her. Without specifying any terms and conditions, I said I wished for the bad blood between us to end.
We shook hands. She smiled and expressed joy at being reconciled. “It’s so nice to be friends again,” she said. I felt a weight lift from my being. The poison was gone. We spent the next 30 minutes catching up with news about our lives. I now no longer notice cars similar to hers.
FORGIVEN AND FORGIVING
So, what is the lesson from that experience? It is a line from a worship song – Forgiven, so that I can forgive. God does not apply terms and conditions when we repent. He forgives us freely and generously. By abandoning the reasons for my hatred, forgiveness was easy. The important thing to realise is that as Christians we must be ready to forgive just as God is ready to forgive us. As we pray in the Our Father: forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. With hindsight – and with greater Christian conviction – I should have forgiven her long ago and thereby prevented years of rancour infesting my mind. That would have facilitated positive development and mutual benefit.
The real big picture we need before us is spelled out in Paul’s letter to the Colossians, chapter 3, verse 13: Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.
Forgiveness brings peace. When we are troubled by slander and hatred, we need to remember the suffering Jesus endured for our sakes. He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him; by his wounds we are healed, wrote Isaiah (53: 5).
No slander and abuse we experience can ever match what Jesus suffered, particularly on Good Friday. First of all he was betrayed by one of his own apostles and then disowned by another. He was subjected to the travesty of a trial where he was insulted and spat upon. Whereas five days earlier he had been enthusiastically welcomed, on that Friday morning, drastically weakened by the savage scourging, the crowds mocked him as he appeared wearing a crown of thorns which his tormentors had placed on his head to ridicule his claim to being a king.
Added to the physical agony of crucifixion, Jesus had to endure psychological torment exemplified by the sign INRI placed on the cross and the jeers and mocking of the chief priests and elders. Slander, abuse and hatred assailed him until his very end. Yet throughout that most horrific ordeal, Jesus never denounced anyone. Instead he had compassionate words for the women of Jerusalem who grieved for him. And, as mentioned previously, on the cross he dispensed mercy to the thief who repented of his ways; he excused the brutality of his executioners.
Hatred hurts, infests and poisons. Compassion cures and emulates Christ. As Robert Lee wrote in Cameos of Our Lord, to be reproached for Christ means to be reproached with Christ. We identify with his suffering (p. 174). Life is too short to harbour hatred and too precious to allow us to deviate from what God wants for us. As Psalm 95 implores us, “do not harden your hearts” (verse 8). Forgiveness is the way to peace of mind. It restores, refreshes and illuminates because as Paul wrote to the Colossians, it rescues us “from the dominion of darkness” and brings us into the kingdom of Jesus “in whom we have redemption” (Col 1: 13-14).
-------------------------------Duncan Du Bois July 2019 ©