There’s this Christian cliche that has been around for far too long: “Hate the sin, love the sinner.” We use it most often in association with people who do things that we consider to be the most heinous of sins (no, not gluttony or pride – those are far too common). We usually toss it out there when talking about the particular brand of “missing the mark” that offends us the most.
“Oh well, hate the sin, love the sinner,” we say, shrugging our shoulders..
Can we all agree to stop saying that?
Is it even possible to hate a behavior without hating the person attached to it? I get extremely annoyed at the behavior of cutting in front of me in traffic, and you know what? I end up getting an elevated blood pressure, not at the act, but at the people who do it. I despise the behavior of leaving rude or insensitive or just plain ignorant comments on blogs. But it’s not the act of writing the comment that I end up being angry with. I can’t get ticked at the comment itself – it’s the people who do it that anger me.
Do we hate cheating or adultery or lying in court? I guess. I don’t know. How do you hate a behavior? Do we hate people who cheat others out of their life savings or sleep with our best friend’s spouse or lie in court and get away with it?
That seems much more probable.
I have come to the conclusion that we as humans are not very good at separating what we each consider to be the most polarizing behaviors, from the people who live them out.
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People say “hate the sin, love the sinner” as if it’s in the Bible somewhere. Maybe in the Gospels, or one of Paul’s letters? Wasn’t it one of Jesus’ parables?
I think the only variation of this saying that might have come out of Jesus’ mouth was:
“Love the sinner.”
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But God hates sin, right? Shouldn’t we hate sin? And love the sinner? It’s kind of the whole God/Jesus paradox that we can’t quite come to terms with: God hates sin; Jesus loves sinners. So shouldn’t we try to do both?
You know how I said earlier that it’s impossible to hate a behavior without also hating the person who is behaving that way? Well, there’s one instance where that’s not entirely true.
With my own children.
They can do stuff that I hate. And yet I never hate them. My kids could do pretty much anything in the entire world and I don’t think I would ever stop loving them.
This is why God can hate sin – because it’s possible for him to do that and still love us, his children.
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The church has spent a long time reciting this little ditty about hating sin and loving the sinner, but I’m afraid that many of us have never gotten past the first half of the saying. I think we’ve gotten so good at hating sin, that we decided to just stop there.
Maybe, just maybe, some of us should start focusing on the second part. Maybe some of us should focus more on just loving.
What do you think?
I know that by writing this post I am violating my own request from last year in a post entitled, “Words the Church Should Stop Using: Sin.” But I couldn’t figure out a way around it.