April 23rd, 2012 by Jim Byrne
Does God hate some people? No, I don’t believe so.
But I hear some theologians support this claim. Commonly they cite God’s “hate” of those who love violence, make false accusations, or sow discord (Psalms 5:5, 11:5, Proverbs 6:19). I’ve also heard “evangelists” tell the unconverted that God hates them. I’m not sure what result they expect from that. An alternate view was recently Tweeted by an atheist: ”Love the sinner and hate your own sin. Shaddup about other people.”
- “Hate my own sin?” The light of God’s truth helps me to do just that. More and more I see my transgressions of God’s law as vandalizing God’s shalom, the well-being of God’s created order. My selfishness often seems akin to painting a mustache on the Mona Lisa. I learn to hate what is vile and out of place in me.
- “Shaddup about other people?” It might be good to cover over minor slights that I suffer. But if I’ve learned to hate and gently remove greed from my own life, replacing it with generosity, why not help others do the same?
- “Love the sinner?” Yes! But can I manage if I have a nagging fear or belief that God hates them? Does God hate them or love them? I received some good help on this from the late Henry Stob, in his book Ethical Reflections.
For starters, the intuition that the witness of Scripture emphasizes that God is a friend of sinners is a sound one. The Father sent his Son out of love for the world. Christ died for the ungodly while we were still enemies. God showers kindness on the unrighteous to lead them toward repentance because God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked. Christians are to be perfect imitators of their heavenly father precisely in their love for enemies.
A person can love someone, and yet be angry with them. A person can love someone, and yet judge or punish them. But love, and hate in the usual sense of the words, are strictly antithetical to one another. I might love one person, and hate another. But I can’t love and hate the same person at the same time–in the most usual sense of the words. Maybe we need to distinguish the word “hate” from its meaning.
Jesus once instructed his followers to “hate” their family members. Yet, the total message of the Bible is that we are to love our neighbors, and have a special responsibility to care for parents, spouses, and children. So in this case, “hate” is not the antithesis of love. Rather, it serves to warn us that attachments to family should not displace the rightful place of Jesus in our lives.
Then what could it possibly mean that God who loves sinners, also hates them? God hates their sin. And God’s attack on sin is often painful to the sinner. It may even feel like hatred. But God’s intention is to separate the sin from the sinner, like a surgeon removes a cancer. To accomplish this, God the Father has embraced his sin-alienated creation, surrounding it with God’s arms: God’s Son and God’s Spirit.
The work of separating us from sin has three aspects. God separates us from the penalty of sin, removing guilt and stain. This required the sacrifice of Jesus. God separates us from the power of sin, teaching us to forsake it and walk in obedience to the Father. This learning experience entails personal cost. God separates us from the presence of sin, ushering us into wholeness of the new creation. This path commonly leads through physical death of the redeemed sinner.
What happens if we reject this “separation?” The sinner who resists may suffer to the point of doom. But it is God’s love for sinners that attacks sin.
Consider the cross. Did Jesus die because of God’s hatred of the Son, or because of God’s hatred of sin? The resurrection of Jesus vindicates him as God’s dearly loved Son, while condemning sin in the flesh and satisfying God’s hatred of sin. If God can distinguish our sin from the one who bore them in his own body on the tree, then God can hate the sin and love the the sinner. They are intertwined, but not inextricably.
As Stob put it: “Hate of sin is a divine necessity; hate of men is a divine impossibility.” And, “The sin we must hate, the sinner never.”
image credit: cantonbaptist.org