Hate the Sin, Love the Sinner?
I have heard it told that sinners are closer to God than others. How is this possible you might ask? The explanation goes that God holds each of us by a string. When we sin, we cut that string. God catches the falling end of the string and ties it up again, bringing us a little closer. Again and again the string gets cut and with each knot you are drawn closer to God. The good news about this analogy is that we are all sinners and therefore all close God.
Sin can be a touchy subject. Some people like to share the different ways they have sinned. Some seek forgiveness and others do not. That’s the world we live in. Still others are ashamed of their sin and prefer to keep their confession between them and God. An expression has arisen about sin: hate the sin and love the sinner. This adage arises from the knowledge that we are all sinners and worthy of love. Sin is referenced as those things that we do which harm others and which offend God.
The trouble with this expression is that a tone of judgement overshadows the reference to loving the individual. By uttering this statement, I appear to be judging someone else. Asserting that I am better than you or my sin is less significant. We should all be mindful of inappropriate behaviour in others however it pays to be mindful of the fact that we are probably also less than perfect.
We all sin, it’s just that our sin has different colours. Representing the different methods that we make mistakes. What I might consider a sin you may laugh off and vice versa. Perhaps what is really at fault is the way we think about sin in the first place. In his book The Cross in Our Context Canadian Theologian Douglas John Hall writes, “Christians have allowed this profoundly biblical conception [sin], which refers to broken relationship, to be reduced to sins – moral misdemeanors and guilty ‘thoughts, words and deeds’…”
Hall’s explanation on sin is not designed to remove emphasis from moral and ethical misdemeanors. Rather it is intended to emphasis that we have misplaced our focus of relationship. Specifically, our relationship with God and secondly with one another. It is the brokenness of our relationships which leads to behaviour which is harmful and hurtful.
If we are going to love the sinner we need to see past the sin. We need to acknowledge that loving the sinner includes loving ourselves. Less judgement and greater focus on relationships is the order of the day. We should not be content to render a verdict about someone based on their behaviour when we have not taken the time to develop a relationship with them.
God is interested in mending fences and repairing strings, focusing on a relationship with each of us. God sees the poor behaviour; how can he miss it when Christ took it all upon himself on the cross. However, God did all this in order to develop a relationship with us. Because God loves us.
- Hate the Sin, Love the Sinner? was originally published in the Northumberland Today on August 18, 2016.