Friday, February 17, 2017

Misunderstanding love and hate

Ben Mallicote writes about faith and politics at the group blog  His newest piece is written in condemnation of the phrase: “Love the sinner, hate the sin.”  I dislike the phrase, as well (it comes from one of Augustine’s letters, not from the Bible); however, I strongly disagree with his post. 

1. Ben misunderstands hate. 

I assume that he was motivated to write this article to address the hate he sees in the world.  I wish he had given it some context, because it’s been my experience that people use that phrase, “Love the sinner, hate the sin,” in order to take sin less seriously, not in order to give freer rein to hate.  Unfortunately, Ben did not define what he means by hate.  He does assert that those with whom we have relationships (children, friends) are ineligible recipients of our hate.  So from the outset, he conflates “hating the sin” and “hating the sinner” without offering any justification for doing so.  I would wager that’s the point where he loses his argument with the people who are enamored of the phrase.  Then he writes that since we are categorically incapable of hating our children, we should also refrain from hating people groups such as gays or Muslims.  (I don’t see the thought progression, there.)  Then he abruptly switches to talking about love.

The problem Ben has is that he’s using a worldly definition of hate in which hate appears to be the opposite of love.  But this cannot be.  God is love.  Yet God hates (Psalm 5:4-6; 11:5; Romans 9:13).  He hates things like lying (Proverbs 12:22), idolatry (Deuteronomy 7:25), and arrogance (Proverbs 16:6-9).  He also hates people such as idolaters, evildoers, and lovers of violence. (Psalm 5:4-6, 11:5)  So then, what can the Christian know of hate?  Hate is an emotion, and it is not sinful.  It is a God-given emotion.  There is a time to hate (Ecclesiastes 3:8).  Hate is an emotional opposing and a standing against something or someone (Psalm 26:5).  Thus we are called to hate the enemies of God (Psalm 139:21).  It can be easily misused, and when we direct it wrongly, we do sin.  We ought not hate simply because we don’t like someone’s actions.  Hate is rightfully directed against the unholy actions of those who stand against God.  It is also directed against the unbeliever himself because the unbeliever stands against God, and that stand is disastrous for the unbeliever.  I agree with Ben that it’s hard to separate the sin and the sinner; apart from Christ, the two are inescapably connected.  In hell God won’t be punishing sin; He’ll be punishing sinners.  Jesus reminds us of the dire state of the unbeliever when he tells us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us (Matthew 5:43-44).  Hatred of the enemies of God does not rule out love.  It does not rule out pity.  It does not rule out prayer.  We are emotionally opposed to those who stand against God, but we are also desirous of seeing them switch sides and come to faith in Jesus Christ.  We are against the promotion of sin, but that does not mean we are against repentance unto life.

Now, this doesn’t mean that I’ll be marching in a parade with a sign that says, “God hates (fill in the blank with pet peeve).”  The people at Westboro Baptist Church misunderstand hate, too.  They use the world’s idea of hate and impute it to God.  They seek to belittle, curse, demean, and vilify others.  That is not Biblical.  Our speech is still always to be seasoned with grace.  We cannot condone or excuse sin, but that does not mean our language should be unkind.

I need to point out that we ARE capable of hating those with whom we have a close relationship, such as our children.  People practice the worldly definition of hate on close family members all the time.  Just think of the neglected children or the spousal abuse.  Most crimes are committed against people the criminals know, and those could all be called hate crimes because love never motivates violent crimes.  Turning back to the Biblical definition of hate, we see that people are capable of hating their children in that worldview, too.  Proverbs 13:24 states, “Whoever spares the rod, hates their children.”  From this, we understand that failing to discipline our children is being hateful to them.  It is standing against them because it fails to drive the folly from them.  Or, in other words, failing to hate the sins of your children leads to hating your children.

2. Ben misunderstands love.
In this article he writes, “love from a distance, love in the abstract, love without being in relationship with those we claim to love is no love at all.  It is love in theory only, or self-righteousness masquerading as love.”  But in a previous blog post, Ben tells us that love is the absolute core of Christ’s teaching, and he concludes, “If your reading of Scripture allows you to be unconcerned about the Syrian refugee, you’ve enshrined your own prejudices over God’s law.”  So, in one case, love of distant strangers is self-righteousness masquerading as love, but when it comes to Syrians, love from a distance without relationship is obedience to the law of love.  His definition seems a bit malleable.  .
For the record, I am closer to agreeing with the current article, not the previous one; you can’t show love to a distant person you’ve never met.  How can I be patient and kind to someone I do not know or see or who is not near?

At least as regards children, Ben says love is “pray[ing] that God would give them the deepest desires of their hearts, that God would prosper them and make their lives happy.”  This definition of love seems to come more from the American dream than the Bible.  Ben seems to have forgotten that Jesus does not pray for us in such a manner.  In fact, Jesus teaches us to pray, “Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven (Matthew 6:10).  This is not praying for the realization of our deepest desires or the satisfaction of our wills; this is praying for the accomplishment of God’s will.  In John 17, Jesus prays for us, but never for our deepest desires, nor for our prosperity.  Rather he prays, “Sanctify them in the truth, your word is truth,” (John 17:17).  He then goes on to pray for unity amongst the brethren and for their unity with Himself, but never for prosperity or happiness.  In fact, Jesus states that the world hates believers (v.14), and then he asks God to leave us in this world that hates us (v.15).  That was how Jesus prayed for his disciples, his spiritual children and friends.  And it was love that motivated him to pray such prayers.  I don’t ask God to give my children prosperity and happiness; I pray that God will save their souls and conform them to the likeness of His Son.  I pray that God will make the deepest desire of their hearts be to know and to love God.

The central proof text for this article is taken from the account in John about the woman caught in adultery.  Ben points out that Christ didn’t rebuke her sin until after he had publicly defended her and granted her mercy and after her accusers had left the two alone.  Ben asserts that our encounters with sinful people should also follow this pattern.  What about the time Jesus made the rich young ruler go away sad?  Mark 10:21 tells us that, out of love, Jesus brought that man to sadness by openly and publicly exposing his covetousness. Verse 23 makes it clear that conversation occurred in front of at least his disciples.  Or what of Matthew 23 where Jesus, speaking “to the crowds and to his disciples,” began to pronounce seven woes on the Pharisees?  He openly called them hypocrites, a brood of vipers, and white washed tombs.  There was no public support, mercy, or private rebuke there.  Even the Sermon on the Mount is a public correction (Matthew 5-7).  Take note of the phraseology: “It was said . . . but I say to you….”  Take note of all the warnings on how not to pray or how not to practice righteousness in front of others.  Jesus reminds his listeners, “Unless your righteousness does not exceed that of the Scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”  And then, of course, there is the very public, very zealous, very merciless overthrowing of the money tables and the expulsion of the corrupt moneychangers from the temple.

Ben also references how Christ washed the feet of his betrayer, using that incident as a model for how we should always treat our enemies.  But that isn’t the whole of Jesus’ interactions with Judas.  Jesus also labelled him a devil in front of the other disciples (John 6:70), and there was neither mercy nor forgiveness nor brotherhood for Judas in the end.  When we pick one or two incidents from Christ’s life and say this is how to love, we get a stunted understanding of love.  If we’re looking for the Biblical definition of love, we must interpret the Bible using the whole Bible, not using cherry-picked bits that support our own definition.

Additionally, Ben says love must be “demonstrate[d] in a way [fellow sinners] feel and understand; and it requires us to treat them not as the ‘other,’ but as beloved brothers and sisters.”  Truly we are to show love to our enemies and to everyone as God makes the rain fall upon the just and the unjust.  As I’ve mentioned, this love includes pity, prayer, and patience.  But loving someone as a brother and sister in Christ is reserved for actual believers in Christ.  The only people groups Ben mentions in his post are "gays", who may claim to be Christians, and Muslims, who by definition are not.  It seems that he thinks we ought to make homosexuals feel totally accepted before we ever mention repentance and forgiveness.  But it is definitely not loving to let someone remain in a state of sin that will result in eternal damnation (Revelation 22:15, 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, Galatians 5:19-21, Ephesians 5:5).  It seems that Ben thinks we should treat Muslims as those who are going to heaven despite their belief that God has no son (1 John 2:23, John 17:3).  Again, it is a denial of reality to treat Muslims as beloved brothers and sisters when they are not.

I wonder what Ben would say if his example were changed to a people group whose sin he doesn’t dispute.  What if we were talking about slave holders?  In Ben’s view of love and hate, he advocates first publicly defending the slave holder, speaking out against anyone who would dare call the slave holder a sinner, and then, only after demonstrating love in a way the slaver can feel and understand and treating him as a brother would Ben dare to privately point out the abomination that owning another human being truly is.  Does that seem right to you?

3. Conclusion
For Ben, love seems to be some sort of unconditional acceptance, maybe even support, of all things.  But I can tell you this is wrong.  Love does not mean the acceptance of everything.  I love my children, but I hate it when they fight with one another.  I hate it when they are selfish.  I want them to hate it in themselves, too, so they can “mortify the deeds of their flesh.”  After all, I hate sin in myself and seek to put it to death (Romans 8:13
, Colossians 3:5).  It does not mean I do not love my kids, nor do I dislike them.  In fact, it is unloving for me to accept such sin in my kids or in myself.  It is indeed love that leads to an unbroken relationship with my children, forgiveness when they sin, and it is love that prompts and empowers my children, and myself, to change and put off the sinful old man and put on the new.

This different view of love and hate leads to a different view on life.  I can love the people groups Ben mentions (Muslims and gays) by treating them as people made in the image of God, showing respect, granting charity, mercy, and kindness.  But, love also brings with it the biblical hate or standing against.  I cannot accept those things that are sin, for the person’s own good. I must share the gospel of grace because they stand in need of it.  I cannot be close or intimate with them because two cannot walk together lest they be agreed (Amos 3:3).  What fellowship does light have with darkness or Christ with Belial (or, in this case, with Mohommed)?  The answer is: none (2 Corinthians 6:14).  Christian love cannot approve of that which God has not approved.  And this Christian love changes the world.  It is Christian “hate” that has chased out (or nearly out) of the world such things as slavery, human sacrifices, and bigamy.

I deviate greatly, not only from Ben, but from the “love the sinner, hate the sin” phraseology.  It reinterprets the gospel by lessening sin.  God is not just displeased with what you do, but with you!  With me!  What should strike us about our sins is not how awful they are, but that we’re the kind of people that do such awful things.  I don’t need my actions changed; I need my heart changed.  “And rend your hearts and not your garments, and turn to the Lord your God: for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and of great kindness,” (Joel 2:13
).  If the problem were only my sin, then tearing my garments might be enough.  But the problem is I am a sinner, so my heart is what needs to be torn apart and built anew by the power of the Spirit.  This is the beauty of the gospel.  We are reconciled to God in Christ.  While we are children of the world and sons of disobedience, God must stand opposed to (hate) us and our sin.  But He sent His Son to die for our sins AND to change our sinful nature (redeeming the sin and the sinner), so that we might be received into fellowship with Him.  No longer opposed, we are reconciled to God through the blood of Christ.  No longer are we enemies, but instead we are citizens of the kingdom and sons of the King, eating forever at His table.  It is this love that we must show, the divine love that reconciles through changing the sinner and paying for the sin.  Everything else is just whistling in the wind.

Disclaimer: I know Ben.  We attended school together until college.