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Ask the Pastor

† Theological musings and answers to selected questions by a confessional Lutheran pastor.

02 February 2007

Hate the Sin, Hate the Sinner?

Q: You wrote [in Glad Tidings of Great Joy on 25 December 2006], “A final thought as you and yours rip into your Christmas presents: Jesus’ own human package was ripped apart — torn open to release the ultimate gift of forgiveness of sins, restoration of the  — Father’s love, and eternal life in heaven.”

Holbein: Jesus EntombedA: Of the Lord’s unwavering love for fallen mankind, Paul wrote, “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)” John said, “By this we know love, that [Christ] laid down his life for us. (1 John 3:16)” We know God’s universal grace because “One has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised. (2 Corinthians 5:14-15)”

When He declares Himself holy (cf. Leviticus 19:2), God testifies to us that He is sinless, incapable of sin, and hating sin. He will not abide even one whiff of sinfulness in His presence. He calls Himself a “jealous God” in Exodus 20:5, one who forged a perfect Creation and who demands perfection from all His creatures. Jealousy is a relationship word. God isn’t jealous of our behavior; His zeal is for His people, as He jealously demands our absolute attention. He hates everyone who doesn’t put Him first.

God’s curses upon Adam and Eve after just one “little” sin don’t show a Deity who only hated sins. If sin alone was the object of His hatred, why didn’t He destroy only the sins (or the capacity to sin) of our first parents? Why did He establish the death penalty for even one infraction of His Law if His hatred didn’t extend to the sinners? Also, we need to remember what damnation means. What is banished to hell’s eternal torment? Is it sins? No! God hates sinners so much that “for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death. (Revelation 21:8)”

Adam and EveIn Psalm 5:5, David professed to God, “The boastful shall not stand before your eyes; you hate all evildoers.” Was he making this up? The Lord plainly expressed His hatred of sin through Isaiah: “I hate robbery and wrong. (61:8)” Through Jeremiah He also clearly declared His hatred of those who violated His Law: “My heritage has become to me like a lion in the forest; she has lifted up her voice against me; therefore I hate her. (12:8)”

The divine Law constantly voices God’s absolute hatred of every evil intent, action, or person. Our holy God will not abide the stench of our sins invading His nostrils. Nor will He tolerate stinking sinners. He compels Himself to root out and destroy sin and to punish those who commit it. Did God punish sin or sinners in the Flood? Genesis 6:12-13 says, “The earth ... was corrupt, for all flesh had corrupted their way on the earth. And God said to Noah, “I have determined to make an end of all flesh, for the earth is filled with violence through them. Behold, I will destroy them with the earth.” When He said “them,” the Lord meant people, not just people’s sins.

The Holy God’s wrath against sin is absolute. Our God is just; He cannot go back on His Word. In His holiness, He promised punishment — even death — to sinners. However, He is also gracious and merciful. To His wretched, sinful covenant people He said, “I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die, O house of Israel? (Ezekiel 33:11)” By his nature, the Lord is able to absolutely love yet completely hate sinners.

Christ ForsakenGod reconciled the holy hatred expressed in Psalm 5:5 with the absolute love He shows in John 3:16. At His own appointed time, He focused His judgment upon one Person, His own beloved Son. Jesus met the fury of His Father’s wrath at sin — an anger so fierce that it led the sinless Son of God to cry out to His Father, “Why have you forsaken me? (Mark 15:34)” On the cross, God poured out the fullness of His hatred of sinners on the One who took our sins upon Himself.

God’s perfect justice demanded that He exercise fully His perfect holiness, His perfect mercy, and His perfect grace. He could not be untrue to Himself by refusing to hate sin nor to love man. Only by providing and offering up the unblemished sacrifice of Jesus did God find a way to be true to Himself. Only by being merciless to Himself, in the person of the Son, could God show mercy to those who believe in His Son. Only in the unjust trial, conviction, and execution of the Christ could God be both just and gracious to us poor, sinful beings.

How can God totally despise you yet absolutely love you? How can One die for all? How can all who believe can live through One? Human reason cannot comprehend these things, yet faith in Christ Jesus compels us to believe. The Law’s demands were met by the Savior’s deeds. The Law that expressed God’s wrath at all sins and all sinners is swallowed up in the grace of Jesus Christ’s Gospel of forgiveness for all who believe in Him.

Saint and SinnerLong ago, the Church coined the expression simil iustus et peccator (at the same time saint [justified one] and sinner), an accurate expression of our standing before God. Every believer is both. Failure to perfectly keep God’s commandments leads to death and eternal punishment. Faith in Christ points us to our eternal life in His presence while also moving us to lives of good works here in time.

Luther captured these contradictory truths while explaining the Ten Commandments in the Small Catechism. The explanation of the First Commandment says, “We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things.” Definitions two through ten continue the refrain, “We should fear and love God.” We fear God’s hatred because we have not kept — and cannot keep — his holy Law. We love “because [God] first loved us (1 John 4:19)” and because Christ “gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. (Ephesians 5:2)”

So while in one sense, we can say that God never stopped loving us, we may still speak of a “restoration of the Father’s love.” As sinners, we need the reminder — the accusation — of the Law so we never complacently believe that we are already “good enough” to merit eternity. As believers, we need the full forgiveness of the Gospel so we never despair of our lost condition and lose hope of everlasting life. We need to know not only that God loves us but also we need to experience that love through the forgiveness of sins and strengthened faith.

Eden and HeavenWhile we live in time, as sinners we do not experience anything approaching a complete expression of God’s love. Our very mortality tells us that our relationship with Him is broken. We cry out for the healing that will only be complete in the Resurrection. Once all sinfulness is forever banished, we will finally experience the full restoration of God’s manifest love that our first parents knew in the Garden.

For a bit more on this topic, please see the previous post Fear or Love.

Scripture quoted from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version™, © 2001 by Crossway Bibles.

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Walter Snyder is the pastor of Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Emma, Missouri and coauthor of the book What Do Lutherans Believe.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

"He hates everyone who doesn’t put Him first."

i have never disagreed more.

19 February, 2007 15:20  
Anonymous Anastasia Theodoridis said...

I think it’s a tragic misunderstanding of Scripture.

Many times, God, condescending to our human weakness, robes spiritual realities in carnal language. Yet it is the spiritual point He is seeking to convey. Thus, for example, when He speaks of His eyes, we are not to think of orbs with pupils and irises, but instead, He means His omniscience. When He speaks of the strength of His right arm, we are to understand that God, being Spirit, has no literal arms, but He means His omnipotence. Similarly, turning away His Face means withdrawing His approval, His “hearing” of our prayers means His ability to know the human heart, and so forth. His wrath means His absolute, unwavering, uncompromising opposition to evil in every form, and ability to destroy it utterly. This power to destroy evil is exercised *on behalf* of mankind, rather than against us.

You ask why God kills people unless He hates them?

Technically, God doesn’t kill people. It is Satan, Jesus says, who was the murderer from the beginning. Death is HIS weapon, not God’s. He can only wield it with God’s permission, same as, when he tormented Job, he needed God’s permission. It is because of the devil death entered into the world.

Why did God permit it? To prevent sin from living upon the earth immortally! Imagine people like Hitler and Stalin living on this earth forever and ever and it becomes quickly apparent what a mercy mortality is!

Satan kills. When it is said that God kills, it means God alone determines the TIME of each person’s death – and this He does according to the time that is BEST for each one of us.

So why does God allow the devil to kill people? To stop their sinning! Not to punish; that comes after Judgment. But simply to end their sinning. And this, note, benefits everybody involved. Take, for example, when God decides to (let satan) destroy a city:

If there were any innocent people who died (in Sodom, say), whom God didn’t arrange to get out of the way beforehand, well, they died in their innocence – a much to be desired circumstance! They will stand before His Judgment Throne innocent.

If there were any who *would* have repented had they been given more time, God knows this, and in His unfathomable wisdom and love and righteousness knows how best to deal with that, too.

If there were those who were never going to repent in any case, then it was best even for them for God to cut short their sinning, because they were accumulating more and more torment for themselves in the world to come. This way they accumulate fewer.

Yes, God describes Himself as a jealous God. But He is jealous on our behalf: He wants us (HIS creation, after all) back, whom satan seduced away. He wants us back not for His own sake, for God is love and love seeketh NOT her own. He wants us back for OUR sake, that we may be healed, and may live, and may achieve that for which we were created: intimate union with Him.

Yes, God is righteous and just. But there is this huge difference between His justice and the blood-soaked human thing that passes for it: God’s justice not only is not based upon hostility, as ours is, but contains not even the slightest hint of hostility. Our whole justice system IS hostility, legalized, is an adversarial system; but with God, there is no hostility. The deity who “will not abide even one whiff of sinfulness in His presence” is not the Father Jesus Christ revealed. Jesus Christ, God in the flesh, sought out the presence of sinners! He ate with the tax collector, having invited himself! He accepted the tears and the perfume and the hair of the whore. He started up a conversation with the Samaritan woman, a heretic who was living with her boyfriend besides. He condescended to die with criminals. He not only can tolerate us, but proves He does, and even says He has come to “seek and to save” the unrighteous.

So it isn’t a case of God being too snooty to tolerate sinners. It’s the reverse: unrepentant sinners cannot tolerate Him! They will be locked into hell, unable ever to escape, yet the lock on hell’s gate is on the inside. They will hate God, yet be forced to bow to Him (for EVERY knee shall bow). They will know all their sins and all their bitter consequences in horrible detail, will be full of self-recrimination, yet will not repent. (Repentance means changing your mind and your life, but that only is possible DURING your life, not in eternity, when time ceases to be. I mean, how will anybody then decide to stop stealing or lying or killing?) They will see the saints feasting at the divine banquet, yet, like the brother of the Prodigal, would not choose to come to the table even if they could.

So, yes, never fear, there IS justice, and perfect justice, too. But without any hatred. Sin is self-punishing, same as alcoholism or drug addiction or promiscuity (especially in this age of AIDS). There is justice, and the impenitent will get what they deserve.

But notice, the judgment of the world hasn’t happened yet! It will happen on the Last Day. Jesus Christ, NOT the Father, is our only Judge, ALL judgment having been committed to Him. And He will execute His judgment when He comes again in glory, “to judge the living and the dead.” Meanwhile, the trial hasn’t even begun. Much less has the verdict come in, still less has sentence already been passed. That it should already have been carried out is just not possible.

So to speak of God having executed His judgment of the world upon the Cross is premature! It cannot be. Yes, He executed His wrath upon the Cross, but executed it not against us (still less against Christ instead of us) but on our behalf, as always, against death itself. He died to destroy death – by the very encounter. When death encounters the Author of Life, what happens? The same thing that happens when darkness encounters the Sun! It is simply destroyed. The same thing that happens when cold encounters a blast furnace. The cold is undone. And death, too, simply ceases to be death, or lack of life. No longer is death separation from Him, for He is present even there. Henceforth, even the grave is filled with His immortal Life; it is a path into heaven, lit all the way by the Light of the One who trod that path before us, warmed all the way by His Love. (Unless, of course, we say no to all that – in which case death is still a path straight to His Throne, but we are NOT going to like being there! Not because He will hate us, even then, but because His very Love will make it all the more torture for us to near Him, knowing He loves us and we hate Him. If He would only hate us, we could rationalize our own hatred…but no. Not even that comfort are we to be afforded as we go to face the dreadful Truth.)

He died, in short, to conquer death, to rise again, and to bring us with Him if we will come, to a new life beyond the jurisdiction of the Law (which only applies to those living in this life, and not to those who have died and risen again). He died and rose again to make His immortal, life-giving Body and Blood participable, so that partaking of them, we may have life eternal. And having life eternal, we need no longer care what the sentence of the Law may have to say about us. The Law cannot touch one who has already become immortal.

Death, which was satan's prime weapon, by which he had kept is in fear and submission all our lives, is destroyed.

Jesus Himself compared His crucifixion to the lifting up of the brass serpent in the wilderness. That serpent was lifted up for healing. Not for punishment.

I’ve crammed much into a nutshell, leaving out 99.999% of what I’d say if I could without writing a book. I know it’s a very different paradigm from what you’re accustomed to. As a result, I know lots of it won’t seem to make any sense. If, however, you should choose to explore it further before outright rejecting it, you’ll find in the end that it does make perfect sense, is consistent with all the Scriptures, and is Very Good News Indeed.

God's love for you and for us all is pure, unadulterated, infinite, boundless, absolute, radically free, sacrificial, self-giving. Nothing can counter it, balance it, temper it, dilute it, mitigate it. And nothing whatsoever can separate us from the love of God in Christ.

yours in Christ,


God hates sin precisely because it is eating the sinner alive, whom God loves! Every sin erodes body and soul, and the cumulative effect is fatal.

20 February, 2007 23:36  
Blogger WELS Lutheran said...

Wow! For any Lutheran this should be a fairly easy question to answer. God HATES the sinner! God hates sin and therefore hates the sinner. We are sin, it is a part of us just as much as having a beating heart. Simply put, God hates the sinner, but as Christians we are not, in His eyes, sinners. You have to look to the Cross of Christ to understand. Through the blood of Christ we have been made "as white as snow". Therefore, when God the Father looks at the Christian, He does not see the sinner, He's sees Christ's perfection.

23 May, 2007 06:22  
Blogger W8OKN said...

God does not hate sinners. First of all, you are suggesting that I have a deeper love for my children than God does for his. So I am better at love than God the father? Nope.

Secondly, Jesus died on the Cross because he loves us. You can't have the Trinity divided. God the Father can't hate us while Jesus loves us. Nope.

Which professor is at the seminary is pushing this nonsense?

12 August, 2008 07:24  

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