Last week we looked at the imprecatory psalms. This week, we are taking one step to the side and looking at a couple of specific statements from the psalms that are a bit difficult to understand or swallow.
Several times over the past week, I have seen this concept floated, “Love the sinner but hate the sin.” It sounds so reasonable, so tolerant, so logical.
Surely that’s how God views things, right? God is love. God so loved the world that he gave his Son. Surely God loves the sinner but hates the sin.
Is that the biblical position? Well . . . let’s investigate that.
For you are not a God who delights in wickedness;
evil may not dwell with you.
The boastful shall not stand before your eyes;
you hate all evildoers.
You destroy those who speak lies;
the LORD abhors the bloodthirsty and deceitful man.
– Psalm 5:4-6, ESV
That’s abrupt, harsh, and so out of step with the “God loves everybody” message of the modern church. It says, literally, “you hate all evildoers,” and further that God abhors the bloodthirsty man. The man, not the bloodthirst. And just so we don’t dismiss this as a one-time message (though, once is sufficient when it’s scripture) let’s look at another one.
The LORD tests the righteous,
but his soul hates the wicked and the one who loves violence.
Let him rain coals on the wicked;
fire and sulfur and a scorching wind shall be the portion of their cup.
For the LORD is righteous;
he loves righteous deeds;
the upright shall behold his face.
– Psalm 11:5-7, ESV
We could continue this journey into God’s hatred by looking at statements like, “Jacob I have loved. Essau I have hated.”1 We have seen over time and history how the Edomites (descendants of Essau) hated the Israelites, even participating in the slaughter of infants when Jerusalem fell to Babylon.2 But that’s humans hating one another rather than God hating a specific individual or ethnic group.
Another twist to this is that God both warned and protected the descendants of Essau. The prophet Obadiah was written to open they eyes of Edom, and Obadiah was confirmed by Malachi saying, essentially, “I will crush you!”3
Yet this same God who will crush Edom is the God who dispossessed the land of Sier, driving out the Horites so that Edom could take the land.4 That would seem to be God’s blessing rather than God’s crushing.
In the restatement of God’s Law given to Moses, we are told directly, “You shall not abhor an Edomite, for he is your brother.” In Mark’s gospel we read that a remnant of Edom (Idumeans) would seek the mercy of Christ.5
God Hates Sinners?
I once heard a very young R.C. Sproul address the idea of God hating sin but loving the sinner in very bold and blunt language.
Quoting the sentiment, R.C. said:
“God hates the sin, but loves the sinner.”
That’s nonsense. God doesn’t send the sin to Hell. He sends the sinner to Hell, because he abhors the impenitent sinner who becomes the object of his wrath.
– R.C. Sproul
Proverbs 6:19 says God hates “a false witness who breathes out lies, and one who sows discord among brothers.” In these examples, the hatred of God is directed at the “witness” and the “one.” The person, not the action. We read above that God hates all evildoers and his soul hates the wicked.
To be consistent with scripture, I have to say, “God hates sinners.”
Now, I do not get the privilege of selecting the list of sinners that God hates? I cannot picket up and down the street saying “God hates group ‘X'” and “God hates group ‘Y’.” That’s not a call I get to make any more than I get to say, “God loves the sinner but hates the sin.”
At the same time, I must reconcile this idea with some equally bold statements in scripture regarding God’s love.
We know there are myriad scriptures declaring God’s love! How are we to reconcile those with “God hates sinners?”
But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
– Romans 5:8, ESV, bold mine
The very emphasis of this verse from Romans is that lost sinners are not righteous when Jesus dies for us. We are not good when God demonstrates his love for us.
You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.
– Matthew 5:43-45a, ESV
When Jesus is conversing with the rich young ruler, the man was wrestling with his own alignment, allegiance, and priorities. He was lacking what he needed to be reconciled to God, yet we are told that Jesus loved him.8
When lamenting the fate of Jerusalem, Jesus wept over the city, saying:
O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!
– Matthew 23:37-45a, ESV
That is a statement of deep love expressed over a terribly sinful city.
There are many such statements in scripture but these are sufficient. The love of God is well established in the Bible, with scripture going so far as to describe love as the very essence of God,6 and further stating that it is not God’s will that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance and life.7
Reconciling Divergent Views
Look, my sin is an affront to God’s holiness. Let’s just be very clear about that. How do I arrive at a place of consistency between the ubiquitous expression of God’s love in scripture with the blunt statement that God hates the wicked.
I believe what is happening in passages like Psalm 5:5 and 11:5 is the use of a rhetorical technique we call metonymy (mə-tŏn′ə-mē). This is the practice of substituting one word or phrase for another.
- We say, “He doesn’t have any wheels” when what we mean is the guy has no car.
- We say, “In Washington today…” when what we mean is the U.S. Government.
- We say, “She spreads a good table” when what we mean is that she’s a skilled cook.
- People “swear loyalty to the crown” when what they mean is they swear allegiance to the ruling powers.
- We say “the pen is mightier than the sword” when what we mean is that a written word can be more powerful than military aggression.
Let’s look at a more blatant use of this in scripture. In Luke 16 we have the story of the rich man and Lazarus. The rich man dies and is in torment; in anguish from the flames. He pleads that someone be sent to his five brothers to warn them. The response is a metonymy.
But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’
– Luke 16:29, ESV
The literal truth is that they did not have Moses and the prophets. They had their writings. I once read a great example of this wherein a person said, “Ugh, I just hate Shakespeare.” Really? Have you met Shakespeare?
But we all understand what she means. She doesn’t like his writings, his plays.
Bringing it Home
When we apply the principle of metonymy to God “hating sinners” we see that the person is metonymically put in place of the offending activity. So, returning to Proverbs 6:19 above, when God hates a false witness who speaks lies, it is the lying behavior that God hates and the one doing the lying is put in place of the actual lies.
Let’s come at this from a slightly different angle, looking at the larger context of our Proverbs 6 passage, and I believe it will be easier to grasp.
There are six things that the LORD hates,
seven that are an abomination to him:
haughty eyes, a lying tongue,
and hands that shed innocent blood,
a heart that devises wicked plans,
feet that make haste to run to evil,
a false witness who breathes out lies,
and one who sows discord among brothers.
– Proverbs 6:16-19, ESV
This passage is filled with metonymies. I have seen some gnarly feet in my time, but none that I actually “hated.” God’s problem here is not with the feet themselves, but evil that is run to. Neither is God’s problem with the eyeballs, but the pride that causes them to be “haughty.”
In the same way that God does not hate literal feet, eyes, and tongues, he does not hate sinners. Hopefully this longer-than-normal blog posting has been helpful in clarifying the idea that “God hates all that do evil.”
1. Romans 9:13; Malachi 1:2-3
2. Psalm 137:7-9
3. Malachi 1:2-5
4. Deuteronomy 2:12
5. Mark 3:8, Note: King Herod himself was an Idumean.
6. 1 John 4:8
7. 2 Peter 3:9, John, 3:16
8. Mark 10:21