dNote: As always, what is presented here is just my opinion. Feel free to disagree and comment politely. I encourage ]olite debate. I will probably contradict myself at some time in the future. So will you. That's what thinking people do - always growing, always thinking, always trying to find a better way. This is where I am today.
Recently I got into an ugly debate with an old friend. We had found each other on facebook after several years of not talking. I highly respect this person and still consider him a friend in spite of the fact that because of our difference of opinion he "unfriended" and blocked me on facebook.
Our 'discussion' centered on 2 things, abortion rights and Islam. At the end I posed the question "why the hate? Why the fear? Why so much spite?" His response was "I don't hate the people, just the sin. Love the sinner, hate the sin."
But, in my opinion, his comments didn't really reflect that position. In fact he said he was unfriending me because I "chose the way of death" and couldn't tolerate my "non-Christlike position". If he could really "love the sinner and hate the sin" and he saw me as a "sinner", then why didn't he approach the discussion with more love and less fear?
And that's the topic for today. "Love the sinner, hate the sin". Is this something that we, as people, can really do? Is it really a 'Biblical' position? Is this really the way to "win people to Christ"?
Let's start by defining sin. The dictionary definition is an immoral act considered to be a transgression against divine law. But what does that mean? In simplest terms, there is "right" and there is "wrong". In a religious context, God (or gods or prophets etc. etc.) decided what is "wrong" and doing a "wrong" thing is a sin. Maybe that's a little over-simplified, but I hope you get the idea.
My friend and I are Christians. He happens to also have very conservative views on most things. My views on many of the same issues are what many would define as liberal. But at least on paper we both agree that in our belief system God has told us what He considers sin to be in the Bible.
But in actuality, it's not that neat. There are as many interpretations of what the Bible says as there are people. In one sense, that's good because when people read it and talk about it and talk about how they each see it, then everyone learns and grows and we get closer to the truth of what it says and means. But in another sense, it leads to thousands of different interpretations of what God said, and in the case of sin, those interpretations give us thousands of different ideas about what 'sin' is. Some say X-Y-Z is 'sin' but others say X-Y-Z is OK, but A-B-C is sin. Another group says it's all sin as well as D thru W.
In other words, sin is whatever people say it is. And that's part of the problem. Group A hates group B because they think what B does is sinful. Group B hates group A because "they started it" and "their intolerance is sin". And on and on and on.
And bear in mind that I am still talking about those of us that believe in the Bible. To bring current events into it, some conservatives believe the enacting of Obamacare is a sin, while other think NOT enacting Obamacare is a sin. Same-sex marriage is sin, no it's not. Abortion is sin, not allowing choice is a sin. On and on back and forth.
Sin, or rather which acts are in fact sin, cannot be agreed upon. There are things that we all agree are obviously sin: theft and murder for example, but even then we argue about what acts should be defined as theft and when is an act of killing 'murder'.
Love the sinner, hate the sin. But we're all hating the different things. So that's part of the problem.
And then there's the hating part. What does it mean to 'hate' sin? Is it just a feeling or is it something you actively do? Is it just a passionate disliking? Or is there an act of hating? I hate creamed spinach (who doesn't?) Do I just hate it by feeling hate? Or do I hate it by trying to remove it from the planet? Do I hate it by telling everyone I know how evil it is and encouraging them to join my cause and spread the word about the evils of creamed spinach?
We can't agree on what sin is and we can't agree on how to hate it. So what about the rest of it?
What is a sinner, then? Obviously it is a person that commits a sin, right? In my opinion it should be that simple, but again, it's not. Some think that a person doesn't have to actually commit the sin to be a sinner. There is legal precedent for this. In many places a "conspiracy to commit" a crime is, in itself, a crime.You don't have to actually do the thing, you just have to have planned it. But some go further, claiming that if you allow sin to exist, then that too is sin. That is kind of what my friend accused me of when our discussion turned to abortion rights. By allowing abortions to be performed I was as guilty of the sin as someone who actually does it or has it done to them.
So we can't agree on what a sinner is either.Which when you factor in the fact that we can't agree on what sin is it gets infinitely more complicated.
Which leaves love. What is love? What does it mean to love? Like hate, is it just a feeling or is it an act?
We could get into a very long, lengthy, philosophical discussion about what 'love' is. I won't go into that here, it would just be too much to inflict upon you at this time. Needless to say, yet again, that love is not something we can agree on either.
I think the only word we can agree on in the statement "love the sinner, hate the sin" is the word "the".
Now let's get to the nitty gritty. If we believe the Bible, and the Christ it presents, then the question now is "what would Jesus do?" or more precisely, what DID He do? How did Jesus "Love the sinner and hate the sin" or did He do that at all?
The obvious example is the adulterous woman. The story is in the book of John, chapter 8. A woman is found committing adultery (why not the man, too? I don't know, it's not explained). The men bring her before Jesus and remind Him that the law says she is to be stoned. Jesus famously says "let he who is without sin cast the first stone". One by one the men leave and soon it's just her and Jesus. "Has no one condemned you?" He asks. "No one", she replied. "Then neither do I" said Jesus, and then said "Go and sin no more".
So here is Jesus, loving the sinner by sparing her life, yet hating the sin by telling her "go and sin no more".
OK. Sure. Nice. Spiffy.
But how else did Jesus react to sin during His time here on Earth? What other stories do the gospel writers give us about Jesus and his dealings with people and their sin?
Matthew 23 gives us one example. Jesus it talking about the "scribes and pharisees". These were groups (think 'denominations') within Judaism in that day and age. They believed the best way to keep the Law of Moses was to build a 'hedge' around it. To create more laws to keep you from getting too close to breaking the "real" law. But then there were laws around those because they felt their laws were as important as what was handed down from Moses and so then there were more... and more.
"Woe to you" Jesus says. Over and over "Woe to you" and further He calls them "serpents" and a "brood of vipers". No where in this monologue does Jesus draw a distinction between their 'sin' and their persons. In the end he asks rhetorically "how are you to escape being sentenced to hell?" In other words, "you're already doomed".
When it came to the pharisees, their existence was a sin. There was no love for the sinner and hate for the sin. Just hate.(Maybe that's a strong word when referring to Jesus, but I feel it's accurate.)
What else have we got?
John chapter 2 tells of the clearing of the temple court. (Also in Mark chapter 11). John, the writer, tells us that Jesus made a "whip of cords" and overturned the tables in the temple court where people were selling animals and things to be used in temple worship - something Jesus saw as wrong since the temple should be a "house of prayer". If he was loving the sinner and hating the sin, why would he threaten to whip people?
On the plus side, Jesus accepted tax collectors (those working for the Roman government), prostitutes, and others that religious leaders saw as 'sinners', often talking and eating with them. So in that sense he was "loving the sinner".
So here we are. At best it's favoritism. The scribes and pharisees are doomed, but everyone else can be forgiven. At worst there is no separation of the sin from the person. Hate for one is hate for the other.
Don't get me wrong. I believe that over all the Bible teaches that there is a differentiation between people and their actions. People are accountable for their actions, but it's possible to forgive the person while punishing their actions.
But I think that as humans, as real world people, that is nearly impossible. And especially as Christians many see a person's condition, their state of being, as sin. Homosexuality is one example. Many interpret the Bible to mean that homosexuality is a choice and anyone that makes that choice is a sinner. But what of someone that is attracted to the same sex, but has never acted on that attraction? What of the man that is attracted to men but has chosen to live a sexless life and has never been in a relationship? Is he still a 'sinner'? Many would say 'yes'. He is guilty of sin by just existing.
The same for others that live in places where Islam is the dominate religion. People that aren't really believers, but practice the traditions of Islam because that is what their local culture does are as guilty of the sin of "being Islamic" as those who are devout believers. And rather than reaching out to the person with love, we condemn all because they are "evil" and "Satanic".
Our language is the same way. Someone who lies IS a "liar". Someone who steals IS a "theif". One who murders IS a "murderer". It's how we, who use the English language, think. It's how we talk. We don't differentiate the sin from the sinner. And while it is possible to do that, it's HARD. When someone lies to you, you don't immediately trust them again. When someone hurts someone you love, you want them to hurt. It's not impossible to separate the sin from the sinner, but it's against our nature. It's against our gut instinct, and as a result there is hate and fear directed not at sin, but at people. And even many who claim that they are indeed hating the sin but not the sinner don't do the love part and just practice hate.
So what are we to do?
One simple thing: love. Just love. However you define it as long as there is no condition or caveat. Love. Feel it, do it, speak it, write it, sing it, teach it, preach it.... whatever. Just love. Let God decide what is sin and what isn't. Love yourself enough to deal with the sin in your own life, but stop the hate. And with it the fear. Well, Mr. Allen, you may ask, what about someone who has an addiction? Should I just leave them there? No. But I would venture to say that sin and addiction are 2 different things. Addiction to things like alcohol and drugs are a medical as well as a spiritual condition and yes love the person enough to help them. But not because you hate what they do. You do, but don't act in hate, act in love.
Act in love. Perform love. Do everything out of love.
Love the sinner. The end.
So ends my rant. Hope you enjoyed it.