Sunday, August 9, 2009

Loving the Sinner and Hating the Sin

Christians are supposed to love the sinner and hate the sin.

But to many of our contemporaries this sounds like a concession to weakness. They consider hate itself to be wrong and evil. If we had a perfect moral character we would be completely free of hate. The passion of hatred itself is in itself evil and to be struggled against and, if possible, overcome completely. Hate is bad; thus we have "hate speech" and "hate crimes." An action that it bad in itself becomes even worse if it is motivated by hate. The passion of hatred is the basic problem.

But what if loving the sinner requires hating the sin? Is not the Christian calling to love what God loves and hate what God hates? The prophet Amos urges: "Hate evil, love good. Maintain justice in the courts" and the Apostle Paul echos the thought in Rom. 12:9 when he says: "Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good." To fail to hate the sin may be to fail to love the sinner because not to hate the injustice perpetrated against the person (or by the person) is to fail to love the person.

Liberal society is based on a weak form of tolerance, rather than on love. We are urged to tolerate one another. Thus Christians who speak out against abortion, same-sex "marriage" or assisted suicide are condemned as "hateful." But it would appear that what is wanted by those committed to contemporary liberalism is not love, but simply an absence of hatred that is indistinguishable from indifference.

Should we be indifferent to our fellow men? Should we, as Christians view the very passion of hatred itself as the problem because it leads to involvement, advocacy and pleading with others to refrain from doing evil? Our conundrum is that if we cultivate indifference, we short circut love. Should the Church accept direction from contemporary society at this point and refuse to love or to hate in the name of a tolerant indifference to the sin around us?

It would seem that we can err equally in two ways; either by failing to love actively (and thus becoming indifferent to the plight of those in need) or by failing to hate sin passionately (and thus becoming indifferent to the plight of those in need).

Our contemporaries would tell us that hating the sin is the last remnant of a judgmental, non-loving attitude and that, even though it is not as bad as hating the sinner, it also should be abandoned if we will to achieve liberal perfection. But our goal as Christians cannot be a state of total indifference to sin. Our goal is to love sinners as Jesus Christ has loved sinners. And to do that we must hate the sin every bit as much as we love the sinner.

7 comments:

NathanColquhoun said...

I don't think hate is wrong. The fear is that too often and too easily hating the sin very quickly translates to hating the sinner. I'm all for hating evil, but I'd rather teach people the difference between people and sin first. In the midst of hating sin, grace needs to be there, reminding us that this sin we hate so much has already been defeated and these people aren't a sum of their sins. Do that, and I hate sin right alongside of you.

David said...

Regarding hating the sin and loving the sinner, Don Carson, in his book 'On the difficult doctrine of the love of God' says that, actually, it is not altogether true to say that God loves the sinner while hating the sin. According to him, the Bible does not necessarily distinguish between the sinner and the sin and, consequently, - much to the distaste of the modern world - God hates the sin and the sinner. I think that I have expressed his sentiment in a very haphazrd and unsubtle way, but that seemed to be the gist of it (correct me if I am wrong). To elaborate on that thought, I could say that God's love for the sinner is an act of His will, a choosing to love over and above a general hatred of sinners. This goes along with what Derrida said once that forgiveness only counts as such when what is being forgiven is itself unforgivable (and as I think Zizek says somewhere about hope being only genuinely hope when the situation is hopeless - if the situation weren't hopeless there would be no need of hope).
But as humans we are not in the same boat as God regarding the hatred of sinners: before us is always the recognition that we are ever complicit in both our own sin and the sins of others, and as such in no position to hate the sinner. That doesn't mean that we shouldn't judge right and wrong, just that we must be extra careful with the plank in our eye first.

Craig Carter said...

Nathan,
I agree with you that people are not the sum of their sins in the sense that anyone can repent and be forgiven. But central to the biblical understanding of sin is the extreme danger of sin to us humans. If people do find forgiveness in Christ their sins doom them to hell and so, in that sense, represent a great danger to their persons. This basic reality cannot be skirted or ignored, no matter how compassionate and humble we are. In fact it is a false humility to see sin in less drastic terms.

Craig Carter said...

David,
I agree with everything you say and also with Don Carson. As I said to Nathan above, people really are under judgment. I would just tweak one thing in your last paragraph where you say:

"But as humans we are not in the same boat as God regarding the hatred of sinners: before us is always the recognition that we are ever complicit in both our own sin and the sins of others, and as such in no position to hate the sinner."

I would just stress that it is not our own sinfulness that makes us unable to judge others (although we are of course sinful). The main reason we are to love our enemies and to love even great sinners instead of hating them along with their sin, is our evangelistic mission in this world. We are called to preach the Gospel of forgiveness of sins so we can't do that if we also assume the role of Judge as well.

God, however, will judge and I think it is appropriate for Christians to pray for God's justice to come in the form of judgment on sin (eg. for Christians to pray for the fall of the Soviet Union. In the non-violent means that JP II urged on Solidarity, we see a good model of Christian social responsibility. Essentially, the Church prayed for God to bring down the tyrants and He did.)

What great evil in the contemporary world are you praying God will bring judgment on and bring to an end? For me the number one evil I pray for an end to is abortion.

NathanColquhoun said...

The parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector maybe shows us that God will in fact justify some sin and won't some others, and it all seems to be in the attitude towards the sin, and ironically the attitude towards ourselves (not just our sin). It seems that in this case judgment is based on their attitude towards sin and themselves and not just the sin itself.

That probably proves your point more, but it came to mind so I thought I'd throw it in there.

The number one thing I pray for is an end to this system of greed where the rich feed of the poor to get richer.

Craig Carter said...

Nathan
In my first comment to you I left out a crucial "not" in the sentence "If people do [not] find forgiveness in Christ their sins doom them to hell." Sorry about that, but I think you graciously got my point anyway despite the typo. Thanks.

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