But Doesn’t God Hate Sin?
Last week I wrote an article in response to SNL’s skit DJesus Uncrossed. Basically I argued that Jesus reveals a God who doesn’t respond to violence with violence, but rather with forgiveness. A friend shared it on his Facebook page and a lively discussion ensued. A few commenters defended the article, while others stated it was compromised by “bad theology,” “bad biblical interpretation,” and an overall sense of “wussiness.”
Those negative comments made me smile like this J.
I fully admitted in the article that I’m a wuss and it isn’t the first time I’ve been accused of having “bad theology” and “bad biblical interpretation.” I like those comments because they mean I’m getting my point across.
But one statement stood out above the rest:
“God hates sin.”
Sure enough, the notion that God hates sin can be found in the Bible, but I’m suspicious of people who emphasize this point. What people usually mean when they say “God hates sin” is that God hates the sin committed by those people. Rarely do people who insist that God hates sin mean that God hates my sin or our sin. This god who hates is a god who justifies our hatred against others. Worshipping a god like this allows us to know we are loved by god because we know who this god hates: those evil sinners. In other words, we know we are righteous and loved because we know they are sinners.
I’ll admit that anyone can look to biblical verses and find that god lurking between the covers of their Bible. The Bible was written by humans and all humans have a tendency to divide the world into “us” and “them,” “good and evil,” “righteous and sinner.”
But God doesn’t divide the world that way. God is uniting the world in reconciliation.
Let’s explore this theological principle through the life of Paul. Before his conversion, Saul (Paul’s pre-conversion name) persecuted the followers of Jesus and threatened them with murder. Paul was the ultimate sinner who had trespassed against God, Jesus, and the early Christians. If God hated sin, God would certainly confront Saul’s sin with hatred.
Seething with violent rage against the early Christians, Saul and some of his friends traveled on a road to Damascus to persecute Christians when suddenly he saw a flash of lightning. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say, “Saul! Saul! You’re a jerk! I hate your sin! And I hate you too! You are an abomination unto me and you are going straight to hell if you don’t change your ways and believe that I am the Son of God!!!”
Okay. That’s what Jesus would say if he was a hater. What Jesus actually said was, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me … I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. Get up and enter the city, and you will be told what to do.” Saul was blinded by the experience, so his friends led him to the city. There he met Ananias, an early follower of Jesus. Ananias had his own vision of Jesus, where Jesus told Ananias to lay his hands on Saul, that he might heal Saul’s blindness. Understandably, Ananias protested, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints in Jerusalem.” Ananias was afraid Saul might persecute him, but Jesus insisted that Ananias heal Saul’s blindness, saying “Go, for he is an instrument whom I have chosen to bring my name before Gentiles and kings and before the people of Israel; I myself will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” Ananias put his hands on Saul and said these remarkable words of grace and forgiveness
Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on your way here, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.
Saul wasn’t confronted by God’s hatred; rather, Saul was confronted by God’s forgiveness. Receiving God’s forgiveness doesn’t mean that we can go on doing whatever we want and that’s okay. It means our lives will become transformed like Saul’s life was transformed. Saul had a new identity in Christ. After his conversion he changed his name to Paul and he was launched into a ministry that would change the world. As Jesus said to Ananias, Paul would suffer years of imprisonment under the Roman Empire, and he was eventually killed by the Romans. But notice that Saul the violent persecutor became Paul the nonviolent persecuted. Paul, as a follower of Christ, could not defend himself with violence because he now had a nonviolent understanding of God.
Paul’s theology transforms from a god of hate who justified his hatreds to the God of Jesus who includes everyone in an embrace of forgiveness and reconciliation. Paul makes this point clear in his second letter to the Corinthians when he wrote in chapter 5 verse 19 that
In Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the ministry of reconciliation to us.
If God hates sin, then Paul got it wrong. If God hates sin then God would count our trespasses against us, but that’s not what God does. In Christ God comes to the world not in the demonic spirit of hate, but in the nonviolent Holy Spirit of forgiveness, love, and reconciliation.
God doesn’t hate sin; we do. We hold trespasses against one another in the spirit of revenge; God doesn’t. God is reconciling the world to God’s Self, not counting our trespasses against us, and looking for people to participate in that reconciliation.