I recently read an article on Huffington Post entitled “Why I Can’t Say ‘Love the Sinner/Hate the Sin’ Anymore.” The author, Micah Murray, is obviously a very caring individual, and I understand where he is coming from. He hates the idea that we would see gays – or anyone – as someone substandard, someone who is “other” to us, or less than us because of their sin. He points to a fundamental Christian reality – that people are people and he rightly resents the idea that people would be defined by a sin, rather than by who they are as individuals.
I agree. It would be a horrible thing if the world were split into groups of people who saw one another as less simply because of a sin that they commit. Indeed, only God can judge the worth of a man. Should one person attempt to tell another man that he is less, then the first man is really the one guilty of such stature.
Yet, in denying the saying “love the sinner, hate the sin” Mr. Murray has committed the other crime of this saying. “Love the sinner, hate the sin” has now become “love the sinner, love the sin.” This is also incorrect, and frankly, quite dangerous and even hypocritical.
The saying “love the sinner, hate the sin” isn’t just a catchy Christian catchphrase that we rattle off passive-aggressively at those who need to “shape up!” No, this saying attempts to capture, to point at, the fundamental mystery of the Christian life: that in dying to our sin, we rise again to a greater self, that in love we conquer death, and that we can only love sinners because we hate their sin.
This saying is not an invitation to view ourselves as better than others, but rather a recognition that as people we are all sinners, struggling to deal with the painful effects of original sin. Moreover, it is a generous and loving phrase, one that says “in our humanity, love one another, and hate the sin that weighs one another down.” Truly, at its core, this saying opens our eyes to the human condition from which we all suffer. Thus, to say “love the sinner, hate the sin,” is a recognition that we are all sinners, and, therefore that we are all in need of love because we are all sinners.
Indeed, we hate the sin because we love the sinner. The saying “love the sinner, hate the sin” is a true practice of the very act Mr. Murray asks of all of us: to love one another, not to judge as we are all sinners, not to be hypocritical because we all suffer from some short coming, from some sin, from some element of our human existence. Yet Mr. Murray, in his compassion, has given in to the progressive notion that true love is manifested in the act of allowing others to do whatever they want in the name of “happiness,” rather than denying ourselves out of an honest pursuit of joy. Christians, however, understand this dichotomy: that in denial we have abundance and in practicing rules we have true freedom. Thus, we hate the sin because of the pain and evil it unleashes in the sinner’s life, because of the shackles it places around the sinner which prevent him from attaining the true joy which freedom from sin brings.
Indeed, it is more loving to hate something that causes another pain, more loving to desire goodness, health, beauty, and joy for someone, more loving to resent an action that causes another harm than allow someone to continue down a path of self destruction.
Thus, for Christians, to love the sinner is to hate the sin. Yet, because we are all sinners, to love the sinner is to love all and to love all involves the righteous hatred of all sin that holds us hostage in this life.
“Love the sinner, hate the sin” is not judgmental, it is not harsh, it is not reserved for “special sinners.” It is a saying that captures the pain of human existence, a saying which challenges all people to rise to the demands of true love. It is a saying that elevates us in our humanity so that we are not our sin, and so that we are not defined by our weaknesses and struggles. Rather, it is a saying that allows us to be defined by the love of the Father, who consistently pours out his graces on us in His love so that we as sinners may sin no more.