A well-known cliché among both Christians and non-Christians is, “Love the sinner but hate the sin.” It’s easy to see why it’s well-known. It nicely seeks to separate the person (whom I should love) from the deed (which I should hate).
But as with most clichés, it poses challenges. How do we lock up a deed without incarcerating the individual? Drunkenness in the abstract doesn’t cause accidents. Drunk drivers do. But when the drunk driver is your parent, spouse, sibling, or child, you find yourself back on the horns of the dilemma. How do I love the sinner and hate the sin?
In his classic work, Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis speaks to this question. Not only does he ask how it can be done, he illustrates how it is done. He writes,
“For a long time I used to think this a silly, straw-splitting distinction: how could you hate what a man did and not hate the man? But years later it occurred to me that there was one man to whom I had been doing this all my life — namely myself. However much I might dislike my own cowardice or conceit or greed, I went on loving myself. There had never been the slightest difficulty about it. In fact, the very reason why I hated the things was that I loved the man. Just because I loved myself, I was sorry to find that I was the sort of man who did those things. Consequently Christianity does not want us to reduce by one atom the hatred we feel for cruelty and treachery. We ought to hate them. Not one word of what we have said about them needs to be unsaid. But it does want us to hate them in the same way in which we hate things in ourselves: being sorry that the man should have done such things, and hoping, if it is in anyway possible, that somehow, sometime, somewhere, he can be cured and made human again.”1
Justice is personal. Prisons aren’t built for crime, but for criminals. Hell isn’t inhabited with sin, it’s inhabited with sinners. But pure justice is fused to love.
“Say to them, As I live, declares the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways . . .” – Ezekiel 33:11.
- C. S. Lewis. Mere Christianity (New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1960), 105-106.