Anna is a pastor, writer, and theologian who obtained her BA in religion in '06, Diploma of Ministry in '16, and Diploma of Divinity in '17.
Do Not Hate Your Brother in Your Heart
“Do not hate your brother in your heart.” This is the law in Leviticus 19:17. From a legal perspective, this is an interesting law. Imagine if this were the federal or state/provincial law in any country. For starters, how would one go about enforcing such a rule? But Leviticus, which is concerned with both civil and national laws, as well as with teaching the Israelites (and by extension the rest of humanity) how to live with God Almighty, often had such commands. The following verse instructed everybody to love their neighbors as themselves.
While it may seem strange that there is a law forbidding the Israelites from hating their brothers, what’s odder still is the phrasing: “Do not hate your brother in your heart.” As opposed to hating them with your brain on an intellectual level, or that deep hatred that one feels in their gut? It could just as easily read “do not hate your brother,” would not the message remain the same? As a matter of fact, changing the words would, in fact, change the message. While I was being quasi-facetious earlier about hating others with various body parts, God likely instructed Moses to phrase it that way for a reason.
Do not hate your brother in your heart. Rebuke your neighbor frankly so you will not share in the guilt. Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD
— Leviticus 19:17,18
The Brain and Why We Hate
The emotional center of the brain is located in the amygdala. The amygdala is part of the limbic system and one of the oldest parts of the brain. God created our brains with the capacity to experience complex emotions and the ability to reason and think complex thoughts. God did this, presumably, because He wanted humans and animals to experience feelings of joy, sadness, grief, empathy, ecstasy, anger, and everything in between. It’s the whole of the human experience. If we didn’t have emotions, then we’d be no different from a jellyfish or Venus flytrap-- mere automatons reacting to various stimuli.
Because we have a God-given amygdala and the ability to think and reason, we also possess the ability to hang on to hatred and feel bitter. God, who knows our hearts and minds, understands that we’re going to dislike somebody at some point. We may even hate them. It is human and animal nature to feel that way. We may have intellectual reasons to hate a person, maybe that person is a child molester. We could even hate a person with a deep, intense hatred from the pit of our stomachs—like the afore mentioned child molester. But we are not to hang on to such feelings of hatred. We shouldn’t set up camp with our bitterness. Anger should be a quick guest who leaves shortly after arriving.
We love because He first loved us. If anyone says, 'I love God,' yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who hates his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. And He has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother.
— 1 John 4:19-21
Slaves to Emotions or Free in Christ?
God could have instructed the Israelites to not hate anybody and He could have left it at that. Or He could have said nothing at all on the subject. Verse 18 already says that we are to love our neighbors. God could have felt that covered it. But He didn’t end it there. God instructed us to not hate our neighbors in our hearts. God knows that instructing us not to hate people won’t end hatred. Besides, mankind, by then, already had a pretty big track record of breaking commands.
God knew that there would be times when we would be slaves to our emotions. The trick is to deal with those emotions in a rational way and release the negative ones. By nursing hatred in our heart, instead of dealing with it through our rational minds, the hatred could grow unchecked like a cancer. It could lead to other sins. Saul hated David and often tried to kill him, Joseph’s brothers hated him and sold him into slavery, Jonah hated the Ninevites and didn’t want to save them. Anger and hatred can lead to many greater sins.
But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.
— Luke 6:27, 28
Replace Hatred With Love
God knows what is in our hearts, He would much rather we replace our bitterness with love. Leviticus reminds us not to hate our brothers in our hearts, and we are to be reminded, that in Christ, we are all brothers and sisters. 1 John 2:9 teaches that “anyone who claims to be in the light (of Jesus) but hates a brother or sister is still in the darkness.” The preceding chapter (3:14-15) takes it even further: “We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love each other. Anyone who does not love remains in death. Anyone who hates a brother or sister is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life residing in him.”
Meanwhile Solomon wisely teaches in Proverbs 10:12 that “hatred stirs up conflict, but love covers all wrongs.” And Deuteronomy 10:19 is a command to love and be merciful to foreigners. Is it any wonder then that God immediately followed Leviticus 19:17 with an admonition to not bear a grudge or seek revenge, and yet another reminder to love our neighbors as ourselves? If we are to be holy, as God is holy (Leviticus 11:44) then we cannot harbor any bitterness, anger or hatred in our hearts. We must remember that we are all brothers and sisters in Christ, and though we will feel anger on occasion, we must deal with those emotions and return to love. For we all sin, and if God’s love can cover over the multitude of our own sins, then surely our love can cover over the sins of others.
© 2018 Anna Watson