A friend recently reminded me of the old Christian adage, “Love the sinner, but hate the sin.” Doesn’t that sound balanced and wise? I’ve always thought so. Having reflected on it afresh, however, I believe I was wrong. The adage is bunk.
It’s bunk because hate doesn’t heal, doesn’t transform, and doesn’t free. It does the opposite: it wounds, stagnates, and binds. We know this, which is why the proverbial Fig Leaf is always in fashion. We fear that if another saw the real us with our ignorance, incompleteness and raw brokenness, they’d hate us and leave. It’s because we fear we are our sin! So we tend to pretend, and that works really well for awhile.
The funny thing is how we also end up pretending to ourselves because, who hasn’t directed self-hatred at a perceived sin or chronic shortcoming? We know from long experience that self-hatred doesn’t heal. So the obvious question is why would hating someone else’s sin bring about their healing?
I think I know what the real adage should be, and it’s bad news. Ready? Love my neighbor. It’s bad news because it’s hard; neighbors aren’t always loveable. It’s bad news because it’s humiliating; neighbors can be unfair. And it’s bad news because I’m no longer in control; my neighbor is.
What’s more fun is “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth”. That puts me back in control, in the drivers seat, and allows me to tell that jerk a thing or two. “You’re going to burn for being an idiot to me, BASTARD!!” Except, drat, Jesus suggests this is the easy way out.
Take a look again at 1 Cor 13. Here’s an excerpt:
Love never gives up.
Love cares more for others than for self.
Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.
Love doesn’t strut,
Doesn’t have a swelled head,
Doesn’t force itself on others,
Isn’t always “me first,”
Doesn’t fly off the handle,
Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others,
Doesn’t revel when others grovel,
Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
Puts up with anything,
Trusts God always,
Always looks for the best,
Never looks back,
But keeps going to the end.
This definition of love is most challenging, and different, from the “love” that we frequently practice towards ourselves and others. Yet this is the bar. Can we offer this to others instead of hate? Can we offer this to ourselves instead of hate?
Maybe the most comprehensive rebuke of the bogus “hate to live” adage was demonstrated by Jesus himself: While we were yet sinners, Jesus died for us. Perhaps this puts a new light on why Jesus called us to follow him. He wants us to redeem others (and ourselves) the same way he did. Of course, it’ll kill us to follow. But that’s what makes way for the butterfly.