The topic of sin has been on my mind recently and I thought it might be good to blog about it.
I suspect that both friends and foes (as well as friendly foes) might be surprised to hear that I believe that God hates sin.
However, I suspect that no one will be surprised to hear that I believe that God loves sinners. Not just because that latter idea conforms to what you probably already think of my views. But also because "God loves sinners" is a deeply Methodist doctrine. A Methodist emphasis (although not a distinctive) is that we hold the concept of prevenient grace dear to our hearts. In plain English, this means we believe God wishes to be in relationship with all people who have ever lived.
However, that doesn't mean that God likes sin. On the contrary, sin is what keeps us alienated from God rather than in relationship with God, so it's a no-brainer that God hates sin. So, yes, God hates sin.
It's not actually so much the concept of "sin" that worries me. It's the concept of "hate".
What do you think of when you hear the word "hate"? Each individual will probably hear differently.
When someone says "I hate it when I ask you to do something and you ignore me" do you hear the other person simply saying "I'm coming here today with a totally neutral request to ask you to change your behavior" or do you hear some negative emotion behind that?
Now, let me ask you another question.
How do you think that someone who has been physically abused by a family member would hear that sentence? How do you think that someone who has been sexually abused by someone bigger and stronger would hear that? How do you think that someone who has been emotionally abused by someone close to them would hear that?
What do you think that someone who has been abused hears when they hear the word "hate"? What do you think they hear when they hear "God hates"?
And what's the relevance of my question? Well, social scientists believe that at least 33% of women have been abused by someone close to them during their lifetimes and that at least 25% of men have also been similarly abused. Social scientists also suspect that these numbers may be under-reported.
So, as Christians, do we really want to send the message that "God hates something or someone or even some action" to the 33% of the population who is hurting and most in need of healing?
I can hear some people now objecting that this is the sort of thinking that has led to the wishy-washy, anything-goes abandonment of values that got the world into trouble in the first place. I think we can take a stance against sin without preaching "God hates" (behaviors or people) and I intend to address that in my next post.
I'm going to suggest that both sides of this question are at fault: both the law-and-order advocates as well as the advocates of passivity. The problem is not that God loves sinners or that God hates sin.
The problem is that human beings engage in black-and-white thinking and behave in reactionary ways. Christianity is supposed to encourage wisdom, among other things, so I think it's the duty of Christian teachers to point to wiser ways of behaving. Wiser than "That's OK, let's not have any rules or boundaries" and wiser than "If we make God look like a Tough Guy, people will be too afraid to sin."