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Does God hate the sin but love the sinner?

A response to Stuart’s assertion that God’s wrath and hatred is exclusively reserved for sins, rather than sinners.

Reposted from Thinking Matters →

In the comment thread of ‘What happens to those who haven’t heard the gospel?’, I told a commenter, Elizabeth, that God does not love sinners in hell. Stuart disagreed, saying:

I disagree with Bnonn on the idea that God does not love those he has to punish. The wrath and hatred of God is reserved only for sin, and humans are caught up and are complicit in it, for which they suffer the consequence on the merit of their own choices. Therfore, God may still love the people in hell.

This is a pretty important topic, because it has huge consequences for what we tell unbelievers in apologetics and evangelism—so I want to bring it out of the comments and respond in a new post.

1. “God hates the sin but loves the sinner”

This is the popular refrain Stuart seems to be echoing. But I don’t really understand what it means to claim that the wrath and hatred of God is reserved only for sin. There are only three options I can see:

  1. “Sin” is some kind of object or property with which God is exclusively angry. But that doesn’t sound very biblical. Not to mention that it’s irrational to get angry at an object or property. One hates and gets angry at people, not things. So this option doesn’t seem feasible.
  2. “Sin” is just a shorthand way of describing what sinners do. Their actions. This seems biblical. But to say that the wrath and hatred of God is reserved only for people’s actions doesn’t make sense either, because actions are not independent things from the people who perform them. If I go out and steal my neighbor’s plasma TV, God isn’t angry at the physical process of a given human being removing a particular piece of hardware. He is angry at me.
  3. “Sin” is a shorthand way of talking about sinners in the context of their actions. Following on from [2] above, this is the only option that makes sense. To say that God hates sin is really just a quick way of saying that God hates people for doing evil things. In other words, to say that God’s wrath and hatred is reserved only for sin is actually to say that God’s wrath and hatred is reserved only for sinners.

Let’s double-check that against the Bible, though, just to make sure:

What the Bible says

The boastful shall not stand before your eyes;
you hate all evildoers. (Psalm 5:5)

The Lord tests the righteous,
but his soul hates the wicked and the one who loves violence. (Psalm 11:5)

So, God hates evildoers and the wicked. That is, God hates sinners. Thus, even if it makes sense to speak of God hating the sin itself, he also hates the sinner. The Bible says so plainly. And these aren’t the only two places:

There are six things that the Lord hates,
seven that are an abomination to him:
haughty eyes, a lying tongue,
and hands that shed innocent blood,
a heart that devises wicked plans,
feet that make haste to run to evil,
a false witness who breathes out lies,
and one who sows discord among brothers. (Proverbs 6:16-19)

Lemme take a moment to point out that what God is hating here is not eyes and tongues and hearts—these are metaphors for specific kinds of sinners. The point of the proverb is to use representative examples of sinners to show that God hates all sinners. One more:

Every evil of theirs is in Gilgal;
there I began to hate them.
Because of the wickedness of their deeds
I will drive them out of my house.
I will love them no more;
all their princes are rebels. (Hosea 9:15)

God began to hate people because of their sin, and promises to love them no more. Notice he doesn’t say he began to hate their sin. He hated them, and explicitly promises to stop loving them.

“But wait—isn’t God love?

That’s what the Bible says, innit—”God is love”, 1 John 4:8. And doesn’t he love the whole world—John 3:16? And isn’t it true that he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust—Matthew 5:45? Yes. But God being love means at least two things:

Firstly, it means he desires what is best for everyone. For all sinners. That is part of what it means to be loving: to want the best even for one’s enemies. And make no mistake: sinners are God’s enemies (James 4:4 for example). So God’s grace extends to all people for a time. They have generally good lives, they appreciate beauty, enjoy pleasure and so on.

But this can’t last, because, secondly, that God is love means that God desires what is right. His love is a holy love; not a wicked love. He doesn’t love evil, but good. “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts,” cried the seraphim in Isaiah 6:2. “The whole earth is full of his glory!” And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And Isaiah said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”

So while God sends his blessings on the whole world for a while, in order that those he has called to everlasting love may repent and be saved, these blessings won’t last forever. His general loving benevolence towards all people who are made in his image does not mitigate his greater love for what is holy. Put another way, his general loving benevolence towards all people does not mitigate his hatred for them as evildoers who have irreparably corrupted the imago Dei.

This is what the Bible tells us: that God is not a God of Wuv. He is a God of Love. Aslan is a not a tame lion. Hebrews 10:31: “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”

6 comments

  1. Philip

    I dispute your point 1. I frequently can and do get very angry at things for doing what I had not commanded. My computer breaking and requiring my attention comes to mind. I hate my old (now defunct) dell computer, and the corporation that sold it.

    Based on that it could be possible that sin is an added quantity worthy of hatred that man appropriated to himself in the garden. Once permeated his being I suppose you could say God hates the person, but I’m not sure that leaves you with the conclusion that God hates the person with unmixed fury and no love.

    I think a more cogent defense of your beliefs is in order

  2. Dominic Bnonn Tennant

    Philip, two questions:

    1. How does your being angry at an inanimate object imply that God may be angry at an inanimate object? You seem to have skipped over my comment that such an attitude is irrational. So, rather than my construing that, well, since Philip is angry at a computer, God may be angry at a theoretical object called sin, I am construing that since it is irrational to be angry at a computer, Philip is irrational.

    2. Where in the Bible do you find sin being described as an “added quantity”? If indeed sin is some kind of substance or thing, what are its properties, and how does it relate to us? At best, that is a highly aberrant view of what sin is.

  3. Federico

    Dominic,

    If God doesn’t love sinners, What was His motivation to save anyone?

  4. Dominic Bnonn Tennant

    God does love sinners. That is, God desires unity with sinners. Onetogetherness. That is why he sent his Son: so that he could achieve onetogetherness with sinners.

    But there are some sinners God has not chosen to bring into onetogetherness with himself. While he may desire onetogetherness with them inasmuch as they are people made in his image, he is never going to act to achieve that, because he desires to reveal his wrath in them even more. That was always his plan for them, just as it was always his plan for the elect to justify and sanctify and glorify them.

    I think the assumption you’re making is that God cannot be angry at sinners while simultaneously desiring onetogetherness with them. I’m not sure why we should think that. It certainly seems false when you think about it.

  5. Federico

    Dominic, thank you for your reply.

    When you say that you believe that God loves sinners, are you referring to “common grace” or His sincere desire that everybody be saved?

  6. Dominic Bnonn Tennant

    I’m referring to love as I defined it in the linked article. An attitude aimed at onetogetherness.

    Terms like “sincere desire” are confused. Is there a sense in which God’s desire to save everyone is not sincere if he doesn’t intend to save everyone? God can have a real desire or a genuine desire to save someone, and yet that desire can be subordinate to his desire to reveal the glory of his wrath in them.

  I don’t post ill-considered articles and I don’t sponsor ill-considered comments. Take a moment to review what you’ve written…