Search This Blog

Monday, July 27, 2015

Love the Sinner


C.S. Lewis once observed that when his Christian teachers used to tell him that he must hate sin while loving the sinner, "I used to think this a silly straw-splitting distinction:  how could you hate what a man did and not hate the man?" This attitude is very common among atheists and unbelievers, as Lewis was when he believed this bit of uncritical thinking. Unrepentant sinners seem to have real difficulty with the Christian claim that we can "Love the sinner and hate the sin." It's one of their greatest points of frustration and the basis of their claim that Christians are all hypocrites because of our obvious hatred of sin.

Critics of Christianity's condemnation of sin, like to point out that such a thing as hating sin without hating the sinner is impossible. One can't hate someone's sins goes the argument, without hating the person who is committing those sins. Therefore, the critics extrapolate from this, that we must accept and embrace sins like homosexual behavior, crude language, drug usage, alcoholism and pornography or we cannot possibly the love sinners who do those things as we claim to do. And if we refuse to, say, sell a gay wedding cake, marry a gay couple, or even attempt to dissuade someone from smoking pot or getting an abortion, then we are, Q.E.D., haters and hypocrites. And if we dare ask someone if he or she would like to come to church, we must be condemning them outright!

The argument unbelievers put forth may feel convincing, but with a very little effort, we can, each and every one of us, find a personal experience of having hated the sin and loved the sinner that disproves their thesis. We need look no further than our own hearts. We've, every one of us, been hating sin and loving a sinner all our lives. The sinner we love most, is, it turns out, ourself! We all commit sins that, in retrospect, we regret having committed. We might not exactly call them sins, but we recognize our less than kindly acts as wrong, whether we give them the name "sins" or not.

We all regret some loss of temper on our part; some bit of cowardice or greed or some lie we have told when the truth might have served us better. When we discover that we have, in fact, committed some unlovely act of which we are ashamed, we are sorry to find that we are the sort of person who could do that. Inevitably, because we love ourselves as much as we do, we forgive ourselves our sin and continue to wish the best for ourselves. In fact, if one does not love one's self, any competent psychologist will tell you that that person is in danger of developing a mental illness, if not a severe psychosis. We are designed to love ourselves. If we do not, our minds inevitably break down, because how can you live as intimately as you do with yourself, if you hate that person.

Jesus, who understood this principle better than any man in history, based his entire distillation of the Law of God upon the fact that every man is born with the innate ability to love himself. When He says, "Love your neighbor as yourself," He tells us not only what we should do, but where to go to find a role model for doing just that. In essence, we already know how to love the sinner and hate the sin from the get-go, for we already know how to love ourselves, as replete with sin as we are.

And, we are born already knowing how to hate the sin without failing in our love for the sinner. "However much I might dislike my own cowardice or conceit or greed," Lewis explains, "I went on loving myself. There had never been the slightest difficulty about it. In fact, the very reason why I hated the things was that I love the man. Just because I loved myself, I was sorry to find that I was the sort of man who did those things."

In the end, Christianity doesn't have to reduce it's hatred for cruelty, greed, murder, lying, adultery or blasphemy by one iota. The truth is, if we love goodness, we ought to hate those sinful acts with a passion, not just for the pain they cause others, but for damage they have done to those we love who are committing those sins. It is at this point that Christians fall to their knees and pray that somehow, in some way, those sinners may be cured of their sin and made whole and human again.

We cannot help it if that makes you unrepentant sinners out there uncomfortable. We're a lot like your mother. We may love you, but if you do bad things, we're probably going to nag you about it and pray for your soul. It may make you feel like we look down on you, but we don't. We just pity you is all. That may make you angry, but if you look at it correctly, if you really do want to do what you want to do, then you can't really get mad at people who don't like it. We don't have to like it. You are free to choose to do what you want to do. So are we. You cannot force us to approve of, what we believe is your misbehavior, anymore than we can force you to behave.

The wonderful and often uncomfortable thing about freedom of choice is that it works both ways. You don't get to disobey on your own hook and then be able to force others to approve of your disobedience. It's hypocrisy at its most blatant to think you can. The old saw, "What's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander," springs to mind.

Where the strife in this world comes from is when one person or group of persons decides they must control how another group thinks or behaves, especially when that group's behavior does not impinge upon that person or group's right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. And that goes back to the original source of the trouble in the Garden. The whole trouble with sin is that, at it's roots, it stems from a desire to set one's self up in place of God; not the God of love and self-sacrifice, who gives everything of Himself for His creation, but a God of power who is Lord and master over all he surveys.  Such a god is a petty tyrant in the end and all who aspire to this sort of godship inevitably wind up petty tyrants, who seek to enforce their will over others. It should not be surprising when sinners of this sort seek to control how we think and feel and demand that everyone approve of their behavior even when they are sinning in a most public and disgusting manner. Sadly, some of them even call themselves Christians.

Tom King
(c) 2015 

No comments: