(Photo by Selma Komisky)
Learning to Love the Broken
By Jehn Kubiak
The “hate the sin, love the sinner” phrase has good intentions, but this phrase is also often misunderstood. When people hear this phrase, they generally get the idea that the person involved in such sin is “unlovable,” so one must learn to love them. However, it’s intended to convey the notion that a person should have anger toward sin––and, that is correct. As Christians––people not of “this world,” we’re supposed to hate the evil inside of it. With this in mind, we must also remember why that is; it’s because we are children of the light, and darkness separates us from the true light (Jesus), until He comes back in the future. Although this is an important idea in Christian doctrine, the lines become blurred when it comes to dealing with people, which is why this phrase has gained popularity in today’s churches.
If we’re supposed to hate evil, then how exactly are we supposed to love sinners? Why on earth would we deliberately love people who disobey God’s commandments? It’s because we’re no different. Sure, we may not commit the “horrible sins” like adultery and murder, but sin is still sin either way. God doesn’t view it any differently because sin separates us from Him. As a result, even something “small” like stealing a candy bar is still just as grave.
Therefore, it baffles me that some Christians I’ve seen––even those in my own congregation––develop this “holier than thou” attitude. Well, at least I’m not having an abortion. At least I didn’t murder someone. The worst thing I’ve ever done was lie to my parents. Now, I’m not saying that people don’t deserve the consequences for their poor choices; certainly, there’s a degree of severity in a legal context that each of these actions comes with. For instance, the law treats stealing less severely than first-degree murder. However, in terms of being separated from God, all sins are created equal.
So, how do we address this issue? Are we supposed to just ignore the injustice in our society? Of course not. There’s a time and place for that, but God also calls His children to love their neighbor as themselves. Most of you are probably familiar with the story of the woman caught in adultery (John 8), but for those of you who don’t, here is the background.
Jesus and the people of Jerusalem were in the temple courts when the Pharisees (teachers of the Law) made a woman who committed adultery stand before the people as they prepared to stone (kill) her. As teachers of the Law, the Pharisees strictly followed the Torah. Since sexual sin was punishable by death, the teachers believed they were sincerely doing what was correct. Some readers may become excited because the woman is getting what she “deserves,” but let’s look carefully at what Jesus says to these Pharisees.
And again He bent down and wrote on the ground…
Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”
“No one, sir,” she said.
“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”
Woah. Jesus just let her go? He forgave her just like that? Yes. But why? It’s because of His love; the kind of love we’re supposed to embody for others. Matthew Henry best summarized this love in his commentary about John 8:
“Many crimes merit far more severe punishment than they meet with; but we should not leave our own work, to take that upon ourselves to which we are not called. When Christ sent her away, it was with this caution, Go, and sin no more. Those who help to save the life of a criminal, should help to save the soul with the same caution.”
Henry makes another great point here; God is the one who judges the rightful consequence and punishment that people should face. That is not for us to decide, as hard as it may be for us to associate with someone who did something “horrible,” such as abusing their spouse. I do acknowledge, however, that this love may not come easily for all, especially those who have endured trauma as a result of sin.
Loving sinners is a necessary part of life because, as Christians, we are called to model God’s love to others. It’s not surprising, then, that people often call Christians “hypocrites” because they’re so judgmental.
So, how can we be a light of love for others? Think about delivering love in little steps; only give what you are capable of, and then increase the love you have to offer someone as you build trust with them. For instance, it may be much easier to love someone who stole your phone than someone who shot someone. Loving someone from a distance is another alternative––you can always pray that God would change someone’s heart, even if you don’t talk directly to that person.
Albeit loving sinners is hard, it’s still possible; we just have to think outside the box a bit about what “love” really means.