Thursday, October 30, 2014
This is a follow-up to my previous post Why Love the Sinner Hate the Sin doesn't work. In the comment section for that post Matthew writes this,
"I think you make some good points here about how we use the phrase 'love the sinner, hate the sin' and how it can become a destructive political statement. The concern with reputation was something Jesus hammered the Pharisees on more than once. 'Love the sinner, hate the sin' becomes a sort of a misnomer when used in this way--are we really loving someone by judging them as 'other' and 'inferior' simply because they sin differently then we do?
However, there's another sense of the phrase that I would add here, related to the first version you mentioned. That is, when the phrase is used about someone who is suffering under their *own* sin. In this sense, 'hate the sin' is not a balance for 'love the sinner', but rather a natural consequence of 'love the sinner.' For example, with an alcoholic, I should love the person and desire his well-being. Because I desire his well-being, I hate the addiction that he is a slave to. Not because it's theoretically 'wrong' or 'sinful', but because it is damaging. I desire to see him free from this addiction."
Now let me first clarify that I am not proposing that we should love sin. In the example of an alcoholic that Matthew mentions, let's begin by all agreeing that alcoholism is a serious problem that can devastate a person's life. I don't "love" alcoholism or addiction. I don't love hurt.
The problem is that even though this seems pretty obvious, when we actually tell someone that what they are doing is wrong or damaging, what often happens is that they deny it. We might tell someone "Hey you have a problem with drinking" and instead of saying "Yes I know, how can I get help?" they will instead say "No I don't! I'm just having fun, and who are you to tell me how to live my life!"
Here's the crazy thing: They probably know they have a problem. So why then are they denying it? What's going on?
The big reason that "love the sinner, hate the sin" does not work is that it is virtually impossible for us to separate our actions from ourselves. So when someone criticizes what you do, you feel personally attacked. That's just human nature. If I said to my wife, "Honey I love you, I just think your cooking sucks" that would not go well at all. If you tell a kid "good job" they beam with pride. We connect what we do with our worth. We all do.
That's the reason people get defensive. They feel that they are being rejected as a person. So when they say "I don't have a problem, and who cares anyway!" what's going on underneath that is the fear of being devalued as a person. It's about rejection. That makes us get defensive and put up walls.
So when a person thinks their therapist or pastor disapproves of their drinking (to stick with that example), they will try to hide or minimize the problem in order to gain their approval. The sin does not stop, it just gets pushed into the dark in order to maintain the human connection.
But what would happen if a person instead got the message that our love was unconditional? What happens when they understand that we will not reject them, not turn them away, no matter how messed up they turn out to be? What would happen if you knew someone would stand by you, even if they knew about all the dark and messed up parts of your life?
Being loved unconditionally like that allows people to open up. It allows them to put down their guard and be vulnerable, to admit their real struggles and wounds. It allows people to bring their problems into the light, rather than hide them and pretend everything is fine.
That's why I say that "love the sinner, hate the sin" does not work. It does not work because it results in pushing the person away and causing them to cover up their sin rather than facing it. What we need to instead communicate is love the sinner, despite the sin. Because the only way we can face our sin is when we face it with love. That's how you need to face your demons, and that's how I need to face mine.
So if our desire is for the good of others, if we really want to see people healthy and whole, I want to have you try this experiment: Don't tell them about their faults and failings at all. Instead go out of your way to communicate unconditional love to people.
What you will find when you do this is that people will come to you and tell you about their struggles on their own, they will open up their hearts because they feel safe. See, we all have things in our lives that we struggle with. We all have dark parts, wounded parts. We might look fine on the outside, but there are all sorts of hurts that are going on behind closed doors. The question is how do we get people to open their door? Unconditional love is the key.
Try it, it really works.