Thursday, September 23, 2010

"Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin" Is Not In the Bible

There's nowhere in scripture where it actually says, "Love the sinner, hate the sin." People say it so often, it starts to sound like scripture, and people act as if it is scripture, but this religious catch phrase is absolutely nowhere in scripture.

So let's unpack it a bit... Scripture does clearly teach us that God is love. It teaches us that God loves all his children and that we, his children, must do the same. Scripture does clearly teach us to forgive others their sins if we wish to have forgiveness ourselves -- it does not matter how big or small the debt being forgiven. Scripture clearly does teach us that we are all debtors, we are all sinners in need of forgiveness. Scripture also clearly teaches that we must not judge others; that when we judge others, we ourselves fall under condemnation.

The formula "love the sinner, hate the sin" implies that we have an obligation to judge the actions and/or the hearts of others, to determine whether another person is a sinner or not. It also implies that some of us are sinners and some are not. Both these implications are profoundly unscriptural.

Scripture does talk about hating sin. But if you study the contexts in which scripture talks about this, it is clear that the sin we are to hate is the sin in ourselves. In other words, yes, we have an obligation to attempt to discern what is and is not sin and to live our lives in accordance with our conscience. I'm not sure we have an obligation to try to be someone else's conscience for them.

If we are concerned about the souls of others (and it is scriptural to be concerned about the souls of others), our primary obligation is to point them to God. They have the scriptures, they have the witness of the prophets, they have the ability to get on their knees and pray, they have a conscience, they can receive guidance from the Spirit. And they are accountable for their own lives. As Christians, we can witness that Christ is the source of life, we can point others toward him. And that is where our obligation ends, and where we stray off the path of Christ when we set ourselves up as the judges of souls. That is God's prerogative, and to arrogate that to ourselves is itself a sin.


Heidi G. aka Mom said...

In the Lutheran understanding of theology, we say "we confess we are in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves". Hence being sinful is part and parcel of our being and the two cannot be separated. So by definition, you cannot separate hate for the sin from hate for the sinner.

J G-W said...

Heidi G. - Interesting point about hate. I am not sure it is a useful emotion in any context. When we use the term "hate" in the context of sin and sinners, it easily shades over into "shame," also a supremely non-useful emotion.

Christ rescues us from sin by elevating us, by reminding us of our worth, not by belaboring the point of how sinful we are, and how hateful our sins are...

Charlene said...

Yeah, there is a lot of self-righteous people who have problems with the words of Jesus: Judge lest thou be judged.

Sean (Loyalist) said...

JG-W, insitful and profound. once again thank you for illuminating that which was clouded.

can i get you to teach in my EQ. we need some good instruction. i tire of the pablum of correlation.

J G-W said...

The more I think about it, the more I am convinced that we only judge ourselves. The words of Christ, as preserved in the gospels says, "For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again" (Matt. 7: 1-2).

I've thought a lot about this particular turn of phrase. I've observed that people who appear extremely judgmental toward others are often even more judgmental of themselves. If we can't forgive ourselves, we cannot experience the forgiveness God offers us. I think that judging others, in essence, may be condemning ourselves to a hell in which we are literally incapable of experiencing forgiveness because our hearts are contracted and closed and unable to conceive of forgiveness. We learn what forgiveness means by forgiving others.

Judging is like a Chinese finger trap... The more we pull (the more we take!) the more tightly it clings to us; the same force we exert to get free is exerted against us to keep us trapped. When we push in (when we give/forgive) the trap is unable to exert any pressure at all and releases us...

J G-W said...

Sean - I can't even teach my own EQ, but thanks for the vote of confidence!

MidKnight543 said...

I think about judging others and how others have judged me each time I recite the confession of sin before eucharist which states,

Most merciful God,
we confess that we have sinned against thee
in thought, word, and deed,
by what we have done,
and by what we have left undone.
We have not loved thee with our whole heart;
we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.
We are truly sorry and we humbly repent.
For the sake of thy Son Jesus Christ,
have mercy on us and forgive us;
that we may delight in thy will,
and walk in thy ways,
to the glory of thy Name. Amen.

If we could only each live and act that way every day.

Bravone said...

I wish you had a "like" button because I agree with so much you say and feel uplifted, but don't often have the time to comment, and less often have something of value to contribute to the conversation.

I appreciate you my friend.

J G-W said...

MidKnight543 - I've always loved the way that particular confession is worded. It's such an excellent reminder every week that when we fall short, it is because we have failed to love adequately. (So often, the "what we have left undone" part!) It also reminds us that sin and repentance are primarily matters of the heart.

J G-W said...

Bravone - Thanks! Back at you as always!

MoHoHawaii said...

I've said in the past that I want to be in your Sunday School class.

I just figured it out. I *am* in your Sunday School class! (I'm the cranky one on the back row whose comments are never very faith promoting but who still shows up every Sunday.)

Thanks. (I guess I should preface that with "I would truly be ungrateful this day if I didn't stand before you and ..." but you get my meaning anyway.)

J G-W said...

LOL! MHH, I'm always honored to have your cranky comments from the back row. :)

mandi said...

I think the snappy little slogan sounds like it is coming from a parent trying to simplify a lengthy explanation for a child. It doesn't work, but in a pinch, parents say all kinds of whacked-out things. It is difficult to explain to my kids why we don't let them spend the night at their grandparents house when Uncle is living with them, since the police pay regular visits and find illegal drugs and stolen property on the premises. We LOVE uncle dearly, but we don't love what he does with his time, and we most certainly don't want to have our kids around when he comes home stoned. There has got to be a better way to explain that to them.

A Gay Mormon Boy said...

I must say that this discussion was one of the highlights of the day for me.

It seems that we get caught up in simplified, pithy maxims that don't really mean much, when the whole idea is complicated by the same logic as "you are what you eat." We are our actions, a complex and evolving set of actions making up our character.

I don't have much to add as I'm still processing/applying what I gleaned....

Gay Mormon said...

Awesome post. I have also addressed this problem on my blog and was recently pointed to yours to read up on your treatment of it. Thanks

Sean said...

i used this one for my EQ lesson today. Thanks :)

it went over very well.

i am nominating you to write all my lessons from now on. :)

Happy New Year!

J G-W said...

Cool! I wish I could have been there to participate in the discussion!