God Hates the Sin AND the Sinner
by Jack Cottrell (Notes) on Thursday, November 19, 2009 at 12:20pm
A RECENT QUESTION: We have all heard the saying, “God loves the sinner but hates the sin.” But is that the whole story? Would it be fair to say, at least as far as the unbeliever is concerned, that God both loves the sinner and hates the sinner?
MY REPLY: I have answered this question in my book, “What the Bible Says About God the Redeemer,” in the chapter on “The Holiness of God,” in the discussion of wrath. Here is the relevant excerpt (pp. 286-87):
Sometimes we hear that God hates the sin but loves the sinner. This is not true. A. H. Strong (“Systematic Theology,” p. 290) observes that God both hates and loves the sinner at the same time: “hates him as he is a living and wilful antagonist of truth and holiness, loves him as he is a creature capable of good and ruined by his transgression.” In other words, God hates the sin, and he also hates the sinner. “You hate all who do iniquity. You destroy those who speak falsehood; the LORD abhors the man of bloodshed and deceit” (Ps. 5:5-6). This and many other passages show that God’s hatred is directed against the PERSON who sins and not just the sin itself. Sometimes just a general category is mentioned. “Everyone who acts unjustly is an abomination to the LORD your God,” says Deuteronomy 25:16. “The LORD tests the righteous and the wicked, and the one who loves violence His soul hates” (Ps. 11:5). The seven things that God hates in Proverbs 6:16-19 include “a false witness who utters lies, and one who spreads strife among brothers.” He also hates “the perverse in heart” (Prov. 11:20), “everyone who is proud in heart” (Prov. 16:5), and whoever justifies the wicked or condemns the righteous (Prov. 17:15). Other passages describe God’s hatred for specific persons. Leviticus 20:23 speaks of God as abhorring or loathing the Canaanites. Sometimes his hatred is directed against Israel. When the Lord saw their idolatry, “He was filled with wrath, and greatly abhorred Israel” (Ps. 78:59). “I have come to hate her,” he says (Jer. 12:8; cf. Hosea 9:15). He also hated Esau (Edom), says Malachi 1:3 (cf. Rom. 9:13).
We must not take these passages lightly. To be hated by the holy God is a terrible, terrifying thing. The Old Testament word translated “to hate” expresses “an emotional attitude toward persons and things which are opposed, detested, despised and with which one wishes to have no contact or relationship. It is therefore the opposite of love. Whereas love draws and unites, hate separates and keeps distant. The hated and hating persons are considered foes or enemies and are considered odious, utterly unappealing” (G. Van Gronigen, “Theological Wordbook of the OT,” Moody 1980, II:880). Could anything be more terrifying than to hear God say, “I hate you”?
Nevertheless, we must remember that God hates the sinner AND LOVES THE SINNER at the same time! This is what I call a “terrible tension” within the nature of God, a tension that can be resolved ONLY by the incarnation of God the Son and his propitiatory sacrifice of himself on the cross. In Christ’s death as our substitute, both God’s wrath against sinners and his love for sinners are perfectly expressed and fulfilled.