Hating Evil, Fearing God
by David C. Grabbe
Forerunner, "Ready Answer," March-April 2010
"The fear of the Lord is to hate evil . . ." —Proverbs 8:13
At the Feast of Tabernacles in Columbia, Missouri, my wife and I saw something that illustrates the double-mindedness of this world. Returning to the hotel after lunch one day, we pulled up to a stoplight. The first thing I noticed about the car ahead was the fake, bloody arm hanging out of the closed trunk. Gory handprints and footprints, as well as the outline of a bloody cleaver, marked the back of the car. Across the rear window, scrawled in blood-red paint, were the words "The Necropolis," Latin for "city of the dead." The Necropolis bills itself as "The Most Extreme Haunted House in Missouri" where "Terror never felt so good."
This rolling advertisement for evil jarred our senses, but it was not surprising. We were, after all, in an active college town, and it was October, the silly season for Halloween. However, we were surprised when the driver, a young woman, got into the left-turn lane and turned into the College Park Christian Academy. While we cannot be sure that the driver actually attended the school, this scene at least gave the appearance that righteousness was fellowshipping with lawlessness and that Jesus Christ was in harmony with Belial.
If the driver of this depraved advertisement were, in fact, a student at the Christian Academy, she should have taken Paul's words to heart: "Abstain from all appearance of evil" (I Thessalonians 5:22, KJV). Regardless of whether she considered herself a Christian, her public promotion of evil indicated that something critical was missing from her life. She did not have a proper fear of God, as we find in Proverbs 8:13: "The fear of the Lord is to hate evil. . . ."
Proverbs 8:13 is one of the definition verses of the Bible, along with "sin is the transgression of the law" (I John 3:4, KJV) and "the love of God [is] that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome" (I John 5:3), among others. Here, the fear of the Lord is defined as "hating evil."
In the Bible, "evil" is used in a wide variety of ways, but as we might expect, its basic meaning is simply "bad" or "negative." It appears in both the passive and active senses. When used passively, it describes distress, misery, misfortune, calamity, or repulsiveness. Proverbs 8:13, however, does not express the passive form of evil, but the active form, which is used in two ways in the Bible. The first can be defined as "what is wrong with regard to God's original and ongoing intent," while the second is narrower in scope: "what is detrimental in its effects on mankind."
People are most familiar with the second definition. When we think of evil, we typically imagine something that is purposefully injurious or intentionally unkind. It is not merely bad in the sense that a hurricane may be bad; it is more than merely unpleasant, but rather terrible by someone's design. In this definition of evil, there is intent to harm—or at the very least, ambivalence toward harm done to another. Evil does not care if harm is done.
In his book, People of the Lie—subtitled "The Hope for Healing Human Evil"—Dr. M. Scott Peck provides a simple yet profound definition of evil: "that which does harm to life or liveliness." The book is about "malignant narcissism": self-centeredness so extreme and pervasive that those possessing it continually injure others around them, not with physical wounds, but with subtle assaults on their emotional or spiritual well-being. This evil cannot be observed directly—the malignant narcissist is a master of deception—but can be seen only in its effects on others, in subtle violence perpetrated against the human spirit in others. Even as these people are doing harm to life and liveliness, they are putting on a pretense of righteousness and piety, terrified at the thought that others might see them as they truly are or that they might actually have to face themselves.
This second way that "evil" is used in the Bible—"what is detrimental in terms of its effects on mankind," or "that which does harm to life or liveliness"—can be quite subjective, thus the Bible also defines it as "what is wrong according to God's intent." A common description in the Old Testament is that a certain person or group "did evil in the sight of the Lord." This description is key because the people did not consider their deeds to be evil. In their view, they were harmless acts. Nobody was getting hurt, and nothing detrimental occurred (that they could see), so they did not consider their behavior to be evil. But what they did was evil—in God's sight.
Israel and Judah justified blatant idolatry and even child sacrifice by saying that they were not doing any harm, or that the harm it might do to the child was insignificant compared to the "greater good" that they believed would come from the sacrifice. The same justification is used for the practice of abortion today.
Israel did not consider temple prostitution to be harmful either, but in the eyes of God—the only eyes that see objectively—what they did was evil. It was evil not just in terms of going against God's intent; it went against God's intent because it was injurious to those involved in it, even though they could not see it. In their myopic pride, they were unable to see that what they were involved in would ultimately bear horrible fruit. So God had to define right and wrong, good and evil, because man is so shortsighted that he often cannot see what will cause harm to himself or to a neighbor.
The "haunted house" mentioned above is a good example of this. Halloween is nothing short of the glorification of evil. Its roots go back to the Celtic—meaning Israelitish—festival of Samhain, who was the "lord of the dead." It was a boiling mixture of drunkenness, revelry, licentiousness, vandalism, treachery, superstition, anarchy, and rank demonism.
Today, this festival is dressed up in a creative costume and dubbed "fun for the kids," but its essence is the same. The world calls it "harmless fun," but it is obvious from Scripture that it is "evil in the sight of the Lord." The seed from which Halloween grew was paganism—really just a softer term for "demonism"—and if the seed is evil, the fruit will also be evil, even if presented in a "fun" way. Yet, the Israelitish people enjoy this annual dose of witches, vampires, and werewolves. They have no problem indulging in the occult, if only in their imaginations.
However, Proverbs 8:13 says that those who fear God instinctively and earnestly loathe those things that do harm to life and liveliness, even if the harm is not immediately apparent. The elements of Halloween, no matter what guise they are in, are contrary to eternal life with God. If we fear God—if we respect Him and what He stands for—then we also oppose all that He is against, which certainly includes anything associated with "the evil one" or his subservient "evil spirits."
What Godly Fear Produces
But what does "the fear of the Lord" at the beginning of the verse entail? Another proverb, Proverbs 9:10, helps us to understand: "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding." While Proverbs 8:13 defines what the fear of the Lord is, Proverbs 9:10 shows what it produces. Understanding the effect of the fear of the Lord will help us to understand the cause.
This verse uses a Hebraism in which the two clauses are written in parallel. The "fear of the Lord" in the first clause is linked to "knowledge of the Holy One" in the second, while the "beginning of wisdom" corresponds to "understanding." Most translations hide the fact that the Hebrew word rendered as "Holy One" is actually plural. It refers to both holy, divine Beings—the Father and the Son. We can more fully grasp this in conjunction with John 17:3, where Jesus says that knowing the Father and the Son—having personal, intimate knowledge of the Holy Ones—is eternal life.
In tying these things together, we see that the wisdom and understanding in Proverbs 9:10 are not abstract concepts but are related to eternal life. They are foundational to being able to live eternally. The reverential awe and respect—fear—of God is what produces wisdom in making sound choices, in having good judgment, in understanding cause and effect. The fear of God makes for a good life—not just for the self, but also for everyone for all time.
James describes such "wisdom from above" as "first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy" (James 3:17). These elements produce a good life, a life of spiritual wisdom. All of them are opposites of evil, of causing harm. Godly fear causes a man to evaluate properly and to arrive at the correct conclusion about what he should or should not do. Ultimately, the fear of the Lord teaches us to live eternally—to live with the skill that the Father and the Son have in living.
Returning to Proverbs 8:13, we can see how hating evil fits into this. When we are vehemently opposed to all that does harm to life and liveliness, and our lives reflect this, we are beginning to live as God does. However, we have to put wisdom in the context of eternity. What may seem "harmless" in the short term may bear evil fruit in the long term. Unless we are able—and willing—to look as far forward as possible to see the outcome, we may not be able to see the harm.
Because of man's fickle and shortsighted nature, God has explicitly defined what is good and evil in His law, and the evil that is defined is sin. It may not be immediately obvious to mankind that burning incense to the Queen of Heaven causes harm because mankind is shortsighted enough not to realize that he is paying homage to a worthless substitute of the true Creator, the One who gives life. Thus, God spells out that we can have no other gods (Exodus 20:3).
Mankind may not see the harm in a "little white lie" (Exodus 20:16), but the One "who inhabits eternity" knows that truth and life are inextricably linked. When falsehood enters in, so do defilement and ultimately death.
Humanity may not be aware of the harm caused by coveting (Exodus 20:17), but the One "who knows the end from the beginning" and who created the human intellect and human heart, knows that sin begins in the heart. The best way to stop sin at its source is to help mankind to guard his heart, before any sin can be produced.
Hate What God Hates
The last half of Proverbs 8:13 goes even further: "Pride and arrogance and the evil way and the perverse mouth I hate." To see who is saying this, we have to back up a verse: "I, wisdom, dwell with prudence, and find out knowledge and discretion." Wisdom, personified here, vehemently opposes pride, arrogance, the evil way, and the perverse mouth.
An active understanding of what will produce abundant good for eternity—that is, wisdom—causes a person to hate its opposite: to despise evil and what causes it. All of the evil in the world is traced back to sin, and sin entered the world as a result of what Satan did. Adam made the choice to sin, but Satan perpetrated evil by encouraging him in a way that ended up doing tremendous harm to life and liveliness, not only for himself, but also for every person that has come from him.
The four examples of evil in Proverbs 8:13, which always end up doing harm, were manifested in Satan, and all of his children continue to exhibit them (see John 8:38, 41, 44). A progression is shown: Pride and arrogance are conditions of the heart, which is where it all starts. Where there is pride in the heart, it will come out in "the evil way," that is in action.
Evil also emerges in words, though it may not always be obvious. Jesus cautions in Matthew 12:34, "Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks." When evil resides in the heart, it will be exposed in perverse speech, language contrary to the truth of God and to love. James 3:8 declares that "no man can tame the tongue. It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison." He also says, "If anyone does not stumble in word, he is a perfect man" (James 3:2). We can only reach that perfection with God's intervention and help, which, thankfully, we have.
The apostle Paul essentially says that the foundation of good works—particularly within the church of God—is humility or lowliness:
I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. (Ephesians 4:1-3)
However, if works are done with pride or arrogance, or for the sake of appearance rather than truth and righteousness, they will cause harm. They may also produce some good, but the account of the Two Trees in the Garden of Eden teaches that, in the context of eternity, a mixture of good and evil is really only evil.
In II Corinthians, Paul stresses the need for believers to separate themselves from what defiles—evil. His concluding instruction is that the fear of God is the means by which we accomplish this perfecting of holiness:
Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness? And what accord has Christ with Belial? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever? And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you are the temple of the living God. As God has said: "I will dwell in them and walk among them. I will be their God, and they shall be My people." Therefore "Come out from among them and be separate, says the Lord. Do not touch what is unclean, and I will receive you." 'I will be a Father to you, and you shall be My sons and daughters,' says the Lord Almighty." Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God. (II Corinthians 6:14–7:1)
We who believe in Christ's name, who have received Him, have been given the right—the authority—to become children of God (John 1:12). If we, as Paul instructs, separate ourselves from what is unclean, we will be His sons and daughters. Children resemble their parents, and one way that we learn to resemble God is by loving the things that He loves and hating the things that He hates. God hates those things that harm the life and liveliness of His current and future children. As we grow in His image, we should also hate what is evil. That is one way that we fear and respect Him.
The more we fear and reverence the holiness of God, the more we grasp our own flaws and defilement. This, in turn, causes us to hate the evil that we find within ourselves (Matthew 5:3-4, 6) and to despise the elements of our nature that would make us miserable or that would cause misery in others if they were allowed to continue forever.
Yet, identifying those things is impossible without allowing the light of truth to shine into our lives. That light comes through knowing God and Jesus Christ. Knowing them helps us to develop the proper fear of God, and at the same time it helps us to begin to see, by contrast, what things in us cause harm to life and liveliness.