God Hates Sinners
Does God hate sinners? Yes. But keep reading.
Instead of trying to rescue God from criticism, listen to the Lord as he speaks for himself.
“The foolish shall not stand in thy sight: thou hatest all workers of iniquity.”
“The Lord trieth the righteous: but the wicked and him that loveth violence his soul hateth.”
“These six things doth the Lord hate: yea, seven are an abomination unto him: A proud look, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, An heart that deviseth wicked imaginations, feet that be swift in running to mischief, A false witness that speaketh lies, and he that soweth discord among brethren.”
But doesn’t the Bible say:
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life.”
And doesn’t it say this:
“But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”
“He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.”
1 John 4:8
People have tried to reconcile these passages of scripture and various explanations have been offered. Some see these passages as contradictory and seek to rescue God from the idea that he hates sinners by blaming the apparent contradiction on the biblical authors. Coming from this point of view, we are told that the Bible reveals the mindset of the human authors, and that is why we sometimes see contradictions in the Bible. God allowed these contradictions to be in his Word and he straightened out the theology of his followers as time passed. It is up to Bible readers to figure out that God corrected these errors of thought over time. So, the words of the Bible that speak of God’s hatred for the wicked are not accurate, they are only the views of the biblical authors that were being persecuted by wicked people. God slowly revealed that he does not have hatred for sinners. In this view, we can only trust what the Bible writers had to say about Christ, who seemed to be a lot nicer than God as he was portrayed in the First Testament. It was by this time that the biblical writers had a better understanding of God’s true mindset toward rebellious sinners.
There is truth to the fact that the emotions of humans come through in the scriptures, but those of us who believe in biblical inspiration reject the notion that the Bible contains contradictory explanations of God, or that the Bible teaches false theology that became more correct as time progressed. The fact that God revealed more truth as time progressed does not mean what was revealed before was false. I reject the idea that God inspired the biblical writers to express things about him that are false. God is the same yesterday, today, and forever, therefore I find fault in how people interpret the words of scripture, not in the words of the biblical authors. Behind all metaphors and human emotions in the Bible, there is still something accurate being claimed about God.
Another way that people seek to protect God from criticism is by using the misleading cliché: God loves the sinner but hates the sin.
As with any other teaching, we must understand how people are defining their terms so we can understand where they are coming from before we can determine the truthfulness of what is being said. Does God love sinners? Yes, but we need to define biblical love. Does God hate sinners? Yes, and we need to define biblical hatred.
I believe that much of the confusion exists because of a misunderstanding of what the Bible means when it uses the word love, a misunderstanding of the word hate, and false teaching about sin, salvation, and judgment. We must interpret scripture with scripture.
“If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.”
Matthew recorded the following words that complement the verse above:
“He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.”
If a person does not hate even his own family members, and his own life also, he cannot be a disciple of Christ. Wow. Now you see why I say Christ would not be accepted in most “Christian” church fellowships today. It would be funny if it wasn’t so appallingly absurd to see what many churches write into their qualifications for pastors as they are searching for some poor sucker to accept a position in their “church.” The qualified “candidate” must have the characteristics that will cause the church to grow numerically. He must have a personality that draws people into the church, and he must get people to stay! Well Christ’s preaching resulted in people walking away, so he wouldn’t get past the pulpit committee nowadays. Sister so-and-so would get her toes stepped on and spineless brother so-and-so would acquiesce to her complaint that this man is not friendly enough. His sayings are too hard, and few will follow him. He will chase people away! The same is true of the Lord’s preachers. They don’t try to tickle the ears of their hearers; they preach repent or perish! Turn from your sins or you will face the judgment of God! Follow me, Christ said, or lose your own soul! You must hate even your own family members, or you cannot call yourself one of my followers!
Well wait a minute.
This is the same Christ that preached that we should honor our father and mother, that husbands should love their wives as Christ loved the Church, that mothers are to love their children, and that we should love our neighbor and even our enemies!
I don’t agree with the explanation that the Lord means that our feelings for him should be much stronger than it is for others, because biblical love is not a feeling. Thus, Christ is not referring to different levels of feelings. I am to love the Lord with all of my heart, and I am to love him more than anyone else. If we use the definition of love that people often use, that it is a feeling we are to have for another, does this mean Christ is forbidding me from loving my wife with all of my heart or ability? I am to love her as Christ loves the Church; does Christ love the Church less than with all of his heart? Does Christ love the Church less than “all the way?” If this is true, then I have to make sure that I curtail my feelings of affection for my wife so that I don’t love her with all of my heart. I can only love her to a certain extent because I can only love Christ with all of my heart.
What is it to love God? The Bible leaves no doubt: “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments.” It is to have a disposition of good-will toward God, and concretely, to obey his moral laws. This blesses God above all else; when his creatures use their free will to obey him! The Bible says: “Ye that love the LORD, hate evil.” God is good and all that is anti-God is evil. In this verse we see that we are to love God, who is good, and hate evil, setting good and evil at variance with one another, while also setting love and hate at variance with one another…but how does this bear out?
The word love in the Bible is not referring to a sentimental emotion or feeling, it is referring to a preference of the mind, a choice, or an action. To love someone doesn’t mean to have good feelings for him (though doing good to someone can be accompanied by feelings of joy), it is to prefer or to seek his well-being. To hate someone doesn’t mean to have feelings of disdain for him (though negative feelings usually accompany hatred for something or someone), it is to reject him and to oppose him in his current state, or to disapprove of him, though we as Christians are to still have a disposition of good-will and we are to seek his well-being, if possible.
I can love my enemy by seeking his well-being, by preferring good for him rather than evil, but I am not going to have feelings for him like I do my wife or children. I am not going to choose him over my family. I am not going to prefer him over my family. In no way am I commanded to have good feelings for him. But I can love him by preferring and seeking his well-being. I can defend myself and my family from him if he commits violence against us, but I am not to seek to do evil to someone who declares himself my enemy, and certainly not against someone that others claim is my enemy (here’s looking at you US of A). I am not to hunt “my enemy” down and kill him or his family or seek to destroy their home just because he opposes me. I don’t have to like him or approve of him, and I can even have feelings of disdain for him if he is an evil man, while still loving him by refusing to initiate aggression against him and by trying to get him to turn from his ungodly ways. Simply put, love in the abstract is a preference of the mind, the preference of good-will. Love in action is seeking the well-being of another, even while we oppose and reject him as an evil doer. Isn’t this what God does?
Some people have claimed that the moral teachings of the New Testament are different than the teachings of the First Testament, and that in fact, Christ raised the bar in places, especially in Matthew chapter 5, but we are right to reject this claim. Christ argued against the additions and interpretations of the Pharisees, but he did not change God’s teachings, he clarified them! To this point, and in sticking to our topic, consider the following passage:
“Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;”
Christ said to love your enemy (seek his well-being), but he didn’t say not to hate an evil doer (disapprove of him and reject his identity and conduct). We are to follow Christ’s example. Christ sought the well-being of his enemies by preaching to them and ultimately dying for them (love), but he also opposed and disapproved of hypocrites and evil men (hate). There is no conflict here. Love for God and those who belong to him requires hatred (disapproval, rejection) of those who live wickedly – while we seek their well-being (love) by doing good unto them. Both love and hate for the same object can exist simultaneously for they are not mutually exclusive practices.
Back to the words of Christ. To love someone more than, or over another, is to choose him over another, to prefer him over another, to put him above another in importance. Christ is telling us that we must choose him or prefer obedience to him even over pleasing our earthly family members. To love Christ is to choose him, and to hate our family members in this context is to reject them in favor of Christ. Love and hate have to do with actions of good-will and opposition, which can occur simultaneously toward the same object. If my family refuses to follow Christ and they seek to dissuade me from following Christ, I must oppose them and choose Christ. If it comes down to making a choice between following him or pleasing our family members, we must choose obedience to him, but even then, we can love our families (while we oppose and disapprove of them) by trying to get them to follow him with us. The great thing is, my family and I can walk together and love him together, helping each other to choose obedience to him above all things. So you see, Christ is not referring to feelings at all; he is speaking of good-will and benevolence versus rejection and opposition. Loving someone can be accompanied by feelings and emotions, of course. A merciful disposition and kind heart lie behind loving actions, but love is choosing good for others over evil, even if you feel like doing otherwise. Disapproving of sinners is not evil, it is love – love for God, his law, the beings in his universe, and even the sinner himself.
This sense of love and hate must be kept in mind when we read the Bible since it clearly shows that God gives grace, his kind favor and abiding influence, to the humble - but he opposes those who are prideful and wicked. God showed good-will (love) to the world by sending his Son to live, die, and be resurrected, but this does not mean that God favors or approves of sinners. He hates them. He rejects them in their current state. God is angry with the wicked every day, but because of his benevolent heart, he seeks, in love, to turn sinners from the error of their ways. In this way he loves the world, for he is not willing that any should perish, but he hates sinners by opposing and rejecting them while they continue in their sins.
If one is still uncomfortable with the idea of God hating sinners, I can only refer him to the Lord’s own words and reiterate that he hates them in the sense that he opposes and disapproves of their current identity and conduct. It must be understood that sin has no moral character apart from the sinner. The act of sin is nothing apart from the sinful actor. It displeases God that a moral agent, under his government, sets himself against God’s moral laws, that is, against love for God and his neighbor. God doesn’t just hate the action of the sinner, he hates (opposes and rejects) the sinner himself. This does not mean that God does not have good-will toward the sinner (love), but again, the Lord rejects the sinner (hate) in his current state. God will not undermine his own moral law by having favor for rebellious sinners in the way he has favor for his saints. He accepts and approves of those who work righteousness (Acts 10:35) and he rejects and opposes sinners. I too can have good will toward my enemies (love them as God does) but I can hate them as God does, meaning I disapprove of their identity and conduct as sinners. The Bible makes it clear that it is not just the sin that is the object of God’s anger, it is the sinner committing the sin. The Bible doesn’t say it is the sin that will be thrown into the lake of fire, for a sin is not an object that can be punished, it is a moral transgression committed by a sinner, and it is the sinner that will be thrown into the lake of fire where he will suffer and perish.
We live in a culture that seems determined to minimize personal responsibility. Different forms of immorality are referred to as addictions. They may be addicted because of habitual choice, but it is still a matter of choice, not something they are forced to do. Drug use is considered a disease that can be cured instead of deliberate actions that must be forsaken. Even guns are considered evil instead of the murderers that kill. This effort to separate the person from what he does has also infiltrated the Church, as seen by the careless cliché we have cited that says we are to love the sinner and hate the sin. God’s holy hatred for sinners and their sins is disregarded for the unbiblical but psychologically comforting idea that God’s love is a permissive love.
We should never mistake God’s love (good-will) and actions of love as him having good feelings for sinners or being accepting of them. God’s feelings result in him loving and hating, but love and hate are not feelings, and again, they are not mutually exclusive practices; they are words that describe how God can justly seek the welfare of his enemies, while also rejecting them and opposing them in their sinful state. Sinners are the enemies of God(!) and we must get that through our heads. The Bible says that God hates evil doers. We must be very careful that we don’t misrepresent the scriptures by thinking we are somehow helping God’s image. God is love - he is the personification of good-will, but he does not have unconditional love, defined as "good feelings no matter what", for sinners, nor does he look on them with favor. In his holiness he opposes sinners, but he calls to them in hopes that they will repent, though even his patience and good-will toward them have a limit.
So does God love sinners? Yes. Does God hate sinners? Yes. But these aren't contradictory "feelings" that he has toward them, they are corresponding functions of righteous good-will.