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The hatred of sin and sinner?

Last week my small group somehow stumbled onto an incendiary topic, when one person stated that as "the old testament tells us that God hates the wicked," those who we would consider sinners today are still unloved by God.

I felt strongly, as several others did that this was a simple case of restating a somewhat cliche phrase, and tried to calm the situation by saying, "no, i believe that God hates wickedness - God hates sin, but loves the sinner."

However, i was rebuffed by more arguments. Most of the reasoning was as follows -

- God only loves us because we are currently following Christ, and as such, he loves the reflection of Christ in us.

- Those who live outside of Christ's love can not be loved by a God who abhors evil or sin.

I find myself mulling my own beliefs to this extent, mostly because I always struggle with balancing what I know to be true about the justified wrath and judgement of God in the light of Christ's sacrifice for us. It's been a while since my theology classes and I know that I don't remember all the correct terms for this type of an inquiry [I'm trying to think right now of what theology we debated when discussing natives in the jungle who have never heard or known of Christ]. Mostly, I'm just looking for some good solid statements on either side of the arguement to bring back to my group so that we can facilitate a better discussion.

Any help?

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Re: The hatred of sin and sinner?

Amy, I hope others will pick up on this. It's a difficult issue, but perhaps I could kick off a response. Part of the problem may be that when we use the words 'love' and 'hate', when tend to have in mind subjective feelings. In the Bible it's probably true to say that the love fo God for his people and the hatred of God towards the wicked have much more to do with his active response to human behaviour. In many ways this comes down to what we now think of as justice. For us justice is managed by a legal system, so God and the spiritual life get confined to the private subjective sphere. But in the biblical world, justice was not so well managed. So the love of God was expressed concretely through the security and prosperity of his people; and conversely the anger of God towards injustice and wickedness was expressed through destructive events such as invasion or famine or exile.

My main point, therefore, would be that we need to be careful in reading this biblical language. It doesn't necessarily function in the way we expect it to function. One conclusion to be drawn from this, I think, is that we have to find our way as Christians out of the private sphere and learn how to speak much more coherently and persuasively about idolatry, immorality and injustice - beginning with the household of God. Notice the word 'learn' in there. I'm not at all sure we know how to do it - and we may find that we have to hand some pretty poor role models.

Re: The hatred of sin and sinner?

Another way to think about this would be to say that because we are Christians, Christ is our interpretive paradigm for all of Scripture.  Where there might be points of tension, God as revealed in Jesus' life death and resurrection should trump other pictures of the Father.

And since 'Christ died [out of love] for us while we were still sinners', and since 'God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son'… I'm thinking God loves the whole world even before they're 'in Christ'.  Are there apparent points of tension with aspects of the Old Testament? Yes. But Christ definitively reveals God, and Christ died for unrepentant people.  Therefore, God loves sinners.  In fact, our love can only ever be a response to God's love.  Therefore if God can only love those who have already responded… he can love no one.

My two cents.


Re: The hatred of sin and sinner?

Amy, just an off the cuff response, a more thoughtful one later perhaps.

Andrew and Daniel have picked some good points and I’d just like to give my little nod.

I used to hear this sad little distortion quite often, but not recently. I can’t remember a single time though when the person saying this had thought through the implications of the idea.

If we reduce God to “hate those, love these” then everything God does has to be an expression of love or hatred. So, as Daniel quotes, it was while we were sinners that Christ died for us, and by your friend’s logic, this had to be an act of hatred. Not much sense there, I fear. But it goes further than this. If it were this rather numinous idea that God loves Christ’s ‘image’ but hates what lies beneath that image, as if Jesus were some sort of mask a chosen (and presumably predestined) few were allowed to wear, then the dominant characteristic of God, his default position if you like, is hate and his love is not only an exception but an exception applied through a form of divine self-deception. In order to hold to this one would also have to think of the achievement of Jesus as being to change something in God, either to make him unusually loving or to persuade him to make an exception to his rule. (Incidentally, all this is really an offshoot of the appeasement of fundamental hostility found in modern penal substitution but let’s not get distracted)

Perhaps closer to the classic evangelical position would be the idea that Christ changes something in us. Put crudely, that he doesn’t make God more loving, he makes us more lovable which is usually thought of as acceptable.

For me, and I guess for many who come to this site, neither of these ideas quite gets to the core of it. The first model is, frankly, a long way wide of the mark, the second fails because it falls short. The reason for this is that the whole thing is modeled around modern individualism. Read wider on this site and you will see the work of Jesus described much more in global terms, in his work in the nation and covenant history of Israel, and through this of our place with him as his followers today.

On a more historical note, quite apart from obvious questions about God’s attitude towards all those who lived before Jesus, are born into other religions or never hear a gospel, or do hear a gospel but from an offensive evangelist…

we have here a way of thinking about sinners and the righteous that closely mirrors the Jewish way of understanding the distinction. In Jesus’ day you had no chance of being one of the righteous if you were not a Jew, and even some Jews, through their behaviour, would fail to qualify. But as they said, God loves us because we are his people, and he hates the unrighteous nations and will bring judgment to vindicate us. (Sounds a bit like your friend to me)

Against this stands… Jesus. Who came to seek and save that which was lost, who embraced many who were, to many Jews, beyond the reach of God and fit only for wrath. When we take in the story across all four gospels and see how Jesus begins in Israel, addresses the nation’s dilemma through the demonstration of God’s rule, and then as the climax of his mission, sends his followers to the nations, we see something of the reach of his intent. The nations, the sinners (a technical term rather than a description of behaviour in Jewish thought) are to be brought into the fold in the person of Jesus.

If we get such a glimpse of the passion of God, his desire to put right what is wrong globally, then that rather mean spirited little distortion is somehow stripped of its camouflage.

Re: The hatred of sin and sinner?

One quick balancing text might be Ezekiel 33:11. If this isn't the heart cry of a loving God for a wicked people, I don't know what it is.

Re: The hatred of sin and sinner?

Certainly this is the heart cry of a loving God for a wicked people, but keep in mind i) that it is addressed specifically to rebellious Israel, the beloved 'son' whom YHWH has chosen, not to all humanity; ii) that it includes a call to repentance; and iii) that the expectation remains that God will judge the wicked through national disaster in some form. The point is that the wicked have to be accountable for their wrongdoing (cf. Ezek. 33:20).

I think it is important not to lose sight of this distinction between God's attitude towards his people and God's attitude towards the nations as we attempt to make sense of this issue. When the nations act unrighteously, particularly towards Israel, they also come under condemnation, but most of the material that speaks of the love or hatred of God is directed towards his people.

Re: The hatred of sin and sinner?

Surely John 3:16 (not to mention the rest of John 3, Romans etc) come into play here. God so loved the world.

Jesus died for us while we were yet sinners.

I thnk that the God loves sinners while hating sin, although it sounds simplisitc and is too often only applied to a select group of sins, is probably as close to the truth as any short statement can be.

God's judgement is not on us as people (at least in the sense of you are "good", he is "bad") but more about whether we will cling to our sins or let go of them and cling to God's grace.

It then becomes an issue of whether we go down with the sinking ship of our sin or let God's amazing grace rescue us.


Re: The hatred of sin and sinner?

Keeping this thread close to Amy’s question is important, it was a personal point she made, so this bit will be short.

Often, for me, this sort of conversation begins to fumble between theology, imagination and experience. The ideas that Amy described owe more to the emotional attributes ascribed to God than to any clear theological model. Unfortunately I have never seen God’s psychometric profile, not having been around before he took on the job. But silliness apart, these binary models just have to be false in their effect if not their principle. Even our range of emotional states is vastly more complex than that we often ascribe to God. Hatred can be and often is an expression of love, when the object of the hatred is something that harms the beloved.

In practical terms I don’t know how all this will help Amy. When people seek such simplistic categories, and then enforce them dogmatically, it is usually just part of that spectrum of religiousness that wants to get its god in a box and to close the lid, even if the box ends up full of horror. If people around Amy are determined there may be limited room for dialogue.

Sorry… this is sounding like a rebuke and it is anything but that… I’m just aware of how miserable this sort of religious reduction is, and how unpleasant it can be to deal with people who think their role is passport control for the kingdom, or worse, the sort of Homeland Security that abuses honest citizens out of fear of the alien. Perhaps the best thing for Amy to do is just remain honest in her response, and if her distinctiveness is not accepted then that might be unpleasant, but if it is, the group might enjoy the realisation that we all have a very long way to go before we have explored our understanding of the one who is what he is.

Re: The hatred of sin and sinner?

Amy implied an answer to her question in the title she gave to the thread. However, there are clearly limitations to the formula; ‘sin’ and ‘sinner’ are not necessarily quite so easily distinguished and separated - given the assumption of the deeper identification of sinner with sin which is addressed by the new covenant. The climactic sections of Jeremiah are paradigmatic in this respect: and to resort to another formula, it wasn’t a new start in life that Israel needed, but a new life to start with.

Concerning how God’s ‘love’ and ‘hatred’ are to be understood: I would have thought there is both a historically enacted significance and subjective feeling. It’s difficult to read the OT prophets - major and minor - without sensing deep feeling at work within God’s being, as the issues of his love and hatred come into play. But God expressed his love and hatred in historically enacted ways. In John 3:16, it wasn’t that God “loved the world so much” (though He undoubtedly did), but that God “loved the world in this way” - which is the meaning of “so” in this context - “heutos”. On the other hand, “God has poured out His love into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given us” - Romans 5:5, just to dispel any doubt over whether God’s love was accompanied by personal feeling.

It is also true that most of the OT describes God’s interaction with Israel, rather than the world as a whole, and should be understood primarily in this way. In particular. 2 Chronicles 7:14 is an example of a text which is too easily taken out of its specific covenant context, and interpreted as a promise to all nations at all times. There has to be some careful recontextualisation before texts like this are applied outside their historical context. God’s dealings with Israel then are not a paradigm for His dealings with nations now.

And yet - there is considerable evidence of God’s dealings with nations outside Israel in the OT. One of the best examples of this is Jonah - where Assyria, the nation which was a byword for the brutal oppression of Israel and all nations at that time, is presented as a people to whom God’s love extends: “Should I not pity Nineveh - - -?” - Jonah 4:11; and the great covenant formula - Jonah 4:2 - is understood by Jonah to have application to Nineveh as well as the people of God. Jonah seems to represent that attitude in Israel which opposed God’s favour to any nation beyond Israel, or more profoundly, feared a repentance of a non-covenant people which might expose the non-repentant attitude of the covenant people.

Re: The hatred of sin and sinner?

Great discussion y’all. I too have been a more than a little suspicious of the “love the sinner hate the sin” ditty. Sloganeering, while clever, may not always express the heart of God. I have thought about the matter this way. Prior to Jesus it was a common belief that God hated sinners, especially any enemies of the Jews. In the OT sinners aren’t so much the object of God’s love as they are his anger:
“The boastful will not stand before your eyes; you hate all evildoers” (Ps. 5:5); “God is a just judge, And God is angry with the wicked every day” (Ps. 7:11)

But when Jesus comes on the scene he goes beyond what was written in the OT and offers a radical new ethic.
"You have heard that it was said, "You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.'
But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven” (Matt. 5:43-44).
How is this accomplished? Paul says the hostility between God and humankind has been taken care of by Jesus’ death (Romans 5:1, 10-11 cf. 2 Cor. 5:18-20):

"Therefore since we are justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ … . For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his
life. But more than that, we even boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation."

In effect, God “calls a truce,” a “cease-fire” with the death of his Son. He offers the terms of surrender to his enemies, God now extends His love to His enemies. Christ's death provides the means whereby humankind is reconciled. But humankind must accept these terms of surrender. In other words, reconciliation is potential until the point of faith. Thoughts?

Re: The hatred of sin and sinner?

Gairo, I think this should be helpful for Amy.

But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven” (Matt. 5:43-44)’

While it might be a mistake for her to get into a proof-text contest (which only works like dominoes, each quote knocking down a previous one, but unlike dominoes, the person with quotes to spare at the end actually wins) this verse does so much to help.

At one level it is explicit, the love of enemies expresses both the Son, because he requires it, and the Father because this is the familial likeness. Put another way, why would Jesus demand something of us that God would not do?

Of course we could also go towards the big ontological one…

I John 4:8 ‘Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.’

Now there’s a hard one to qualify!

Re: The hatred of sin and sinner?

I am just joining not only this discussion, but the whole issue! A friend has been moving in this direction and I am trying to understand open source theology and some of the related issues it engenders. So my question is this:

I understand the plain sense of the verses quoted in the second paragraph above. But I also understand that the Church has historically understood that this peace and reconciliation is extended only to those who are, depending on your theological persuasion, the elect and/or those who have made a decision to submit their lives to Christ. In other words, Christians.

What I am reading here on this thread and in related posts is a whole new theology that places mankind in a sort of “morally neutral” position because of what Christ did on the cross. The only sin for which one might now be condemned is the “sin” of not responding to God’s love. Am I getting this right? It sure looks to me like most of the folks I am reading here have basically chucked any notion of forensic accountability. Nobody is an enemy of God any longer. Non-Christians are only “redeemed and reconciled unbelievers”. Am I taking this too far? It seems to me that by this logic we are about a milimeter away from Universalism, aren’t we?

Can anyone help me with this?

Re: The hatred of sin and sinner?

 several articles on the topic our forum gathered awhile ago:



how do we know what God is like?

Hi everyone,

I'm new to the site, so be nice! I've caught up on what seems to be an interesting discussion. I'm not sure if this response will be helpful to Amy but is where I'm at with this at present.

I'm sure God hates sin (of which many people, Christians alike, have various understandings of what constitutes sin), or I would like to think he does. I would like to think God hates what we think sometimes, what we do to our bodies, treat the poor and the environment. What many people would today constitute sin was of course was sometimes condoned by God in the Old Testament and would result in God going on trial in the Hague. So of course its not as straighforward as we would like it to be. For me the question that Amy asks is critical as many people of non-faith backgrounds battle with a wratheful God and surveys portray this as one of the major stumbling blocks for coming to faith (obviously within the context of hell). I agree with Chris and his comment on prooftexting. In two thousand years of humans recording Gods dealings with us we can justify just about anything (and have). I understand that the bible is a record of Gods dealings with us as humanity as WE reflect on what that means. (This means I obviously dont hold to an infallible position on scripture, which I hope doesn't disqualify me!). I think if we look at the whole picture of Gods dealings with us in the bible we would get a picture of a God who loves (of course we have to speak anthropomorphically here and use human categories, what else have we got?) all people and desires all people to participate in his kingdom and experience a relationship with him. I also dont think its just theological muddle as once approach to this influences our view of God as well as those who want to participate in his kingdom. My experience with non-Christians is that that are interested in particpating in the kingdom but are confused about the nature of the King.


Re: how do we know what God is like?

Hi Brian, and my welcome to you, as I’m sure others will in due course.

I think you’ve hit on something important here, and particularly in the context of the bigger setting of this site where we are exploring narrative approaches quite widely.

We live storied lives, together and individually, and the stories we inhabit all have some ‘settings’ or perceptual assumptions that are often quite buried. Many in the evangelical traditions have had their stories built from extremely varied streams, including the Reformed tradition going back through Calvinism and so on. Common in this tradition, and certainly something that Amy is finding, is that because of a particular view of what constitutes sin (as a condition as much as an action) and what God wants to do about sin, has led to a theological construct based on a fundamentally hostile God. A position which colours just about every area of theology right down to our experience of what God is like on a wet Wednesday afternoon when the boss has just thrown a tantrum and the kids are coming down with colds.

To keep this short (I am supposed to be working on something else), you’ll find, no less in the so-called Emergent movement than anywhere else, a similar enquiry to the one you describe. One aspect of this, for me as well, is God as Creator and Father. A creator whose act of creating did not end and extends to repair, restoration, redemption, and ultimately to re-creation, an endless act of creation in a boundless and eternal spring of creativity that we call love. This reminds me, in the context of other threads here as well, of JB Phillips translation of Grace as “God’s unconquerable goodwill”. Or Norman Kraus’ line that the Cross is a ‘massive act of solidarity’ on God’s part.

These are narrative lines that speak differently, from a different set of qualitative assumptions, and are, in my view, fundamentally orthodox and profoundly consonant with the history of the acts of God.

Re: The hatred of sin and sinner?

"For God so loved the world that He sent His only begotten Son…"  If God only loves the reflection of Jesus in us, why did He send Jesus to begin with?

Re: The hatred of sin and sinner?

hi amy. hi all.

great conversation and much has been said already, but i will add my little bit.  i have no illusion that it will particularly help you, amy, but perhaps it will help me.

first of all one of my hurdles to remaining a christian - even a postmodern emerging one - is the kind of thinking the peoplein your group expressed.  i was raised in a very reformed theology where i grew to feel as though jesus was some sort of blanket that covered me because god hated me so much.  i have also wrestled with feeling as though god hated me so much he had to kill jesus.  intellectually i dont think i believe this, although i find that it is connected to my resistance to the religion of christianity as i see it expressed today. 

seeing the bible as a story - and jesus as an answer of wholeness and filfillment to a specific people (israel) - helps.  it would be my hope that we see in the story of the bible, a "play," a picture of a loving creator, more than willing to restore brokenness over and over again.

i would like to leave the theater of this text and believe that the story of israel now includes me and this mysterious being so many call god.  i would like to see jesus as a miracle that brings us hope. 

however, the concept of sin=damnation, the concept of blood atonement, and the concept of wicked in eternal torture, is not something i can comprehend by intellect or experience.  it is frankly too gross and bizarre.

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