Love or hate the sinner or the sin

If you do a search on the Internet for “Love the sinner, hate the sin“, you will most likely come up with two responses. The first response is a lot of articles from pastors, priests and Christian writers telling you not to ever say that. The second response is quotes and articles from famous Calvinist preachers saying that God doesn’t love the sinner, but rather hates the sinner, and the sin as well. Either response is telling Christians not to ever say that. Both responses are on opposite extremes on the reason why you should never say that. This seems very weird to me. When I read the scriptures and reflect on what I understand about God, I can’t help but think how neither of these responses can even be applicable. However, let’s have a look at this.

Origin of “Love the sinner, hate the sin

First things first, let’s define where the expression, “Love the sinner, hate the sin” came from. Who said it? Is it in the Bible? If you search for this expression online, you will find a myriad of persons pointing out that this expression is not in the Bible. Indeed, you cannot find this expression succinctly stated in the Bible. It is often pointed out that it was actually derived from Mohandas Gandhi in his 1929 autobiography, where he is quoted as saying, “hate the sin and not the sinner“. Although this is true, the expression was said previously in Latin by St. Augustine of Hippo in 423 AD in a letter he wrote to nuns in a Monastery (now cataloged as Letter 211) providing them with General Rules for Their Guidance. The letter contains the expression, “Cum dilectione hominum et odio vitiorum“, which translated to English means “With love for mankind and hatred of sins“.

St. Augustine actually used the expression as an excuse to punish the nuns who gave “wanton” looks towards young men. He used the expression in his explanation to warn the nuns to abstain from this behavior and to punish them and even expel them if they don’t confess and/or submit to the warning. Mohandas Ghandi, on the other hand, said the following:

Hate the sin and not the sinner is a precept which, though easy enough to understand, is rarely practiced, and that is why the poison of hatred spreads in the world.

So, Ghandi was pointing out that it is difficult for us to separate the sin from the sinner, and so we end up hating the sinner because of the sin, instead of hating the sin and not the sinner. Both men stated similar things, but for different reasons and to have a different effect on their audience.

Why they say never say it

Opponents to the use of this phrase claim varying reasons for why it should not be said. Some don’t like the idea of calling anyone a “sinner“, as it makes it seem as if one is better or worse than others. Some don’t like the word “hate” because it is a harsh word to use and invokes a lot of negativity. Many don’t like it because they feel that the phrase itself implies judgment of anyone who commits a certain sin. Some feel that the expression is only used in reference to gender identity and sexuality issues, and is not applied overall to everyone. So, they object because it is primarily used to stigmatize persons of the LGBTQ community. Some believe that it is a hindrance to having relationships with people who are viewed as being involved in sin.

From what I can tell, the idea is that the opponents of the expression are viewing it from a particular perspective that is fixated on using the expression to judge people who are involved in certain acts that are labelled as “sin“. So, it feels as if certain (sexual) acts are more “sin” than other sins. It also seems that they are offended by the use and application of the words “sin“, “hate” and “sinner“. Many of the objectives are related to a negative attitude and rhetoric towards the LGBTQ community.

I think I can understand the concerns of persons, and how the expression has been used. I know people are very sensitive in our modern western cultures today. People get offended easily, and take things the wrong way. To be honest, just based on the words, “love the sinner, hate the sin“, the phrase isn’t really discriminatory against any particular group of persons. Yet, it often seems to be applied in a very selective way by Christians who use the phrase often, and opponents who object to its use.

Does God hate sinners?

One big question that really needs to be asked and answered is whether God loves or hates sinners. In Calvinistic circles, you will often hear their preachers claim that God hates sinners. This is indeed a weird thing to claim. For example, a well-known Calvinist, John Piper, makes the statement:

So, it is just not true to give the impression that God doesn’t hate sinners by saying he loves the sinner and hates the sin. He does hate sinners. – John Piper

To defend this comment, he quotes 2 verses in the Psalms:

4 For thou art not a God that hath pleasure in wickedness: neither shall evil dwell with thee. 5 The foolish shall not stand in thy sight: thou hatest all workers of iniquity. – Psalm 5: 4-5 (KJV)

5 The Lord trieth the righteous: but the wicked and him that loveth violence his soul hateth. – Psalm 11:5 (KJV)

To be fair to John Piper, in the same article he makes the statement, “He hates — now here is the paradox — and he loves at the same time. “For God so loved the world” (John 3:16) that he hates.” So, John Piper makes the claim that God loves the world and hates the world simultaneously. He calls it a paradox. To me, it seems like confusion. It is very interesting to me that to justify the idea that God hates sinners, persons would go to the extent that they would claim that God loves sinners and hates sinners at the same time. So, if this is possible, how do we explain God’s actions and God’s words?

It is interesting to me that we can quote scriptures that say, “God is love” (1 John 4:8), but we can’t seem to find a scripture that says, “God is hate”. It is also interesting that the scripture says that if we hate our brother who we can see, how can we love God who we can’t see (1 John 4: 20). The scripture also says that if we hate our brother we are in darkness (1 John 2: 9) and God is the Father of lights (James 1: 17). It also says that if we hate our brother, we are murderers (1 John 3: 15). There are also numerous scriptures that say we are to love one another and love our neighbor as ourselves. It stands to reason, therefore, that if there is a scripture that says “God is love” and numerous scriptures instructing us to love and not hate anyone, then if God is also hate (at the same time), there should also be supporting scriptures instructing us how to hate as God hates others. However, we seem to find the opposite. There are numerous scriptures warning us not to hate others, including many examples of Jesus himself showing love to “sinners” in the face of the religious elite of the day who hated anyone they deemed “a sinner”.

What I find interesting is that there are numerous scriptures instructing us to hate evil. All throughout the scriptures we see the expression “the fear of God (or, the Lord)”, and Proverbs 8: 13 provides the proper interpretation of that expression, “The fear of the Lord is to hate evil”. Proverbs 6: 16-19 tells us about the six things that God hates. We also find that the apostle Paul teaches us in Romans 12: 9, “Let love be without dissimulation [pretense]. Abhor that which is evil; cleave to that which is good“. It is also interesting that the scriptures tell us in Romans 5:8, “But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us”. Now, if God loved us while we were sinners, and sent Jesus to save sinners (John 3:16-17), then where does the ‘God hates sinners’ come into play?

Oh right… let’s not forget the three verses in Psalms 5 and 11 quoted by Piper, and there are a few other verses that express a similar sentiment (Leviticus 20:13; Proverbs 6: 19; Hosea 9:15). When we examine these verses, one of the things we notice is that if you take them at face value, you may come to the confusing conclusion that God does hate sinners or rather people who do iniquity or wickedness. The interesting thing about this is the scriptures teach us that “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). So, technically, we are all sinners. So, by logical deduction, if God hates sinners, then he hates all of us. Even when you look throughout the scriptures, all of the patriarchs, prophets and apostles have sinned, without exception. I think in reading the scriptures we fail to realize that language and expression was different in different ages and times. When God says that he hates “workers of iniquity”, he is not talking about the persons or people, but he is talking about what these people have become. This understanding is most evident in words God expressed to the prophet Ezekiel:

Have I any pleasure at all that the wicked should die? saith the Lord God: and not that he should return from his ways, and live? – Ezekiel 18: 23

For I have no pleasure in the death of him that dieth, saith the Lord God: wherefore turn yourselves, and live ye. – Ezekiel 18: 32

Say unto them, As I live, saith the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live: turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die, O house of Israel? – Ezekiel 33:11

In talking to Ezekiel, God expresses that he does not have any pleasure when wicked people (sinners or workers of iniquity) die, and, in fact, God expresses that his true desire is that they would turn from their evil ways and live. What God really hates is people becoming “workers of iniquity” or maybe it would be more accurate to say that he hates when sinners are living a life entrenched in sin that he would have to destroy them. We see a practical application of God being pleased with people who repent (or change) from their evil ways in his discourse with Jonah about the people of Nineveh (Jonah 3 & 4). God was planning to destroy Nineveh as their punishment for sin, but he sent Jonah to tell them that they should repent, and when they did God decided not to do anything to them. His true desire is to save people from their sins.

I think that what the scripture is expressing is not God’s hate for sinners, since all people are sinners. Rather, it is expressing God’s hate for people to become evil and wicked, by being sold out entirely to sin, and evil actions (iniquity). So, no, God does not hate sinners. God loves sinners, which is why he sent Jesus to die on the cross to save us, sinners, from sin. He wants us to be free from sin (Romans 6:22; Romans 8: 2).

How we can apply this phrase

Love the sinner but hate the sin” is a phrase that should not be used to judge anyone. Nor should it be used to make a distinction between “you and me” or “them and us”, because the scripture tells us that “all have sinned”. We indeed should all hate sin, as “sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death” (James 1: 15). No one wants to be on the receiving end of sin. Even those who commit sins against others will be negatively impacted. The thing is that if we study the scriptures, as the Holy Spirit leads and shows, we will see that trying to legislate ‘not sinning’ does not work. It was tried for hundreds of years, when the law was given to Moses. It failed. The apostle Paul taught this in all his epistles, and if people could stop sinning from legislation of laws, then Jesus would never have to come. Love is the only way we can win over sin, and through the Spirit of God is the means by which we can operate in love.

Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh. – Galatians 5: 16

Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law. – Romans 13: 10

My final thoughts are that we indeed should love sinners, as we have all sinned. We should also hate the sin, as sin brings death. Let’s not think that we are better than anyone else, or that our sin is not as bad compared to others. We should be free to declare that wrong is wrong. If we are Christians, we should also always be mindful of what God has saved us from. We ought to remember the words of Jesus in Luke 7: 47, “Wherefore I say unto thee, Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much: but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little”, and we should also let the words of the apostle Paul given us insight, when he said in 1 Corinthians 10: 12, “Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.” Be blessed and encouraged.

References:

  1. Who said, “Love the sinner, hate the sin” – Fr. Vincent Serpa O.P. – Site: https://www.catholic.com/qa/who-said-love-the-sinner-hate-the-sin
  2. Letter 211 (A.D. 423) – St. Augustine or Hippo – Site: https://www.newadvent.org/fathers/1102211.htm
  3. Stop Saying You “Love the Sinner; Hate the Sin” – Jeremy Myers – Site: https://redeeminggod.com/love-the-sinner-hate-the-sin/
  4. Are we to love the sinner but hate the sin? – Site: https://www.gotquestions.org/love-sinner-hate-sin.html
  5. The Problem with “Hate the Sin, Love the Sinner” – Phylicia Masonheimer – Site: https://www.crosswalk.com/faith/spiritual-life/the-problem-with-hate-the-sin-love-the-sinner.html
  6. Is ‘Love the sinner, hate the sin’ biblical? – Site: https://www.compellingtruth.org/love-sinner-hate-sin.html
  7. 3 Reasons “Love The Sinner, Hate The Sin” Is An Abomination – John Pavlovitz – Site: https://johnpavlovitz.com/2015/08/13/3-reasons-love-the-sinner-hate-the-sin-is-an-abomination/
  8. The Bible Doesn’t Say ‘Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin.’ Anywhere. – Bert Montgomery – Site: https://ethicsdaily.com/the-bible-doesnt-say-love-the-sinner-hate-the-sin-anywhere/
  9. Is it okay to “Hate the sin but love the sinner”? – Jovie Wilkinson – Site: http://queergrace.com/hate-the-sin/
  10. Why I Can’t Say ‘Love the Sinner/Hate the Sin’ Anymore – Micah J. Murray – Site: https://www.huffpost.com/entry/why-i-cant-say-love-the-sinner-hate-the-sin-anymore_b_4521519
  11. God Loves the Sinner, But Hates the Sin? – John Piper – Site: https://www.desiringgod.org/interviews/god-loves-the-sinner-but-hates-the-sin
  12. Does God hate anyone? – Matt Slick – Site: https://carm.org/does-god-hate-anyone
  13. Does God hate you, Sinner? – Site: http://mercifultruth.com/doesgodhate.html