Sunday, May 4, 2008

What God's Love for Sinners Does Not Mean

You can google, “Does God Hate Sinners” and find hundreds of writings by people, mostly very ignorant people and many quite hostile people, who believe He does. Reading some of these, it occurred to me that a very good paradigm for us in thinking about the subject is alcoholism (or any other form of addiction). This is because most of us are able to see in alcoholism a multi-dimensional problem. Most of us realize it is not a purely moral problem, but primarily a disease. On the other hand, alcoholism is not merely a disease, either, and to fail to see its moral aspect is to take too shallow a view of it. Well, the same things are true of sin in general. The disease model is the best, most accurate one, yet it alone is insufficient, for sin does also have a moral dimension.

I once had a co-worker who confided to me that she was a binge drinker who attended AA “every night but Tuesday.” She met a very nice man there and they got married and had a daughter. So far as I know, they have been living happily ever after.

But let’s do a thought experiment and say they didn’t. Let’s suppose she fell back into drinking heavily. She failed as a mother and failed as a wife. Her husband divorced her and got custody of the child. She lost her job. Eventually, she landed on the street, homeless, most likely prostituting herself in order to eat and to support her addiction.

Suppose this woman is your sister, with whom you have always been close. Suppose further that you are mature person and a Christian. What will your attitude toward her be?

You will hate her drinking. You will hate the smell of alcohol on her breath. You will hate the way she slurs her words when drunk, and loathe the sight of her staggering. You will hate that she has become a drunk, a street person and a prostitute. And yes, you will be angry with her for having let all this happen, and for continuing to drink, and not having the fortitude to stop.

But note, all your displeasure and anger will arise from the fact that you love her! If she were a nobody to you, just another anonymous whore, you wouldn’t have these feelings. You might feel pity, you might feel compassion, but if she weren’t anybody you cared about, you wouldn’t be angry. (Unless, of course, you were simply a hostile person, showing it in the form of moral indignation.)

It’s like that with God. If He hates our sin and He hates what we have done to ourselves and He is angry with us, all these are not contradictions to His infinite love, but expressions of it.

So what does it mean that God loves you always, no matter what? And what does it not mean?

1.) It doesn’t mean you get a free ride. Yes, God will be patient with you, will treat you with unfailing kindness, will cherish you, in whom, after all, He still sees His own image, however disfigured. But all sin is like alcoholism or drug addiction: it ruins you. All by itself, without any help from God, it destroys you. Other forms of sin may do so more subtly than alcoholism, less visibly, but just as surely. That’s the very reason God hates it. Sin is self-punishing, in other words. You don’t get a pass.

2.) It doesn’t mean God is pleased with you. But it does mean He sympathizes, empathizes, has most tender compassion. When He took upon Himself our fallen human nature, yet without sinning, He took all of our frailties upon Himself, as well, as if He had been an alcoholic, yet without ever losing His sobriety. He has been tempted in all points the same as we have been, although without sin. He knows what it is like. He knows our frailty. He understands not from the outside, but from the inside, what being human is like.

3.) It doesn’t necessarily mean you are going to be saved. Yes, He will save every alcoholic in the sense that eventually He will bring each one to a “place” beyond the grave where there is no alcohol, but whether any given alcoholic will be grateful for that or be tortured by it remains to be seen. He will bring you and me to where there is no sin, but whether we feel delivered or deprived, indeed destroyed, depends upon us.

4.) Does God love you so much as to accept you as you are? Well, let’s put it this way: He loves you as you are. But a person who truly loves a drunk will never be content to see that person stay as he or she is. If you really love an alcoholic, you do not give him a drink no matter how he begs, or weeps, or curses. Yes, God loves you as you are, but He also loves you too much to leave you as you are. He always wants better for you.

5.) His unconditional love for you doesn’t mean God winks at evil. He corrects evil. But correcting evil does not mean being hateful about it, being spiteful, vengeful, retaliatory. Sin itself, like alcoholism, already heaps misery upon misery on us; there is no need for God to add yet more. Correcting evil means changing it into good. You correct illiteracy not by not by beating a person, but by teaching him to read and write. Alcoholism is corrected not by jailing the drunk, but by, for example, his learning to follow the Twelve Steps.

6.) God’s eternal, unfailing love means His is always on your side. Now an alcoholic who begs you for a drink may not think you are on his side when you refuse to give him one. He may be unable to see it that way. But it is still so. That God is always on your side does not mean He is not actively opposing all you do. Being on your side means working in your true best interest. Even if God sees fit to shorten your life because of your sin, it is because He knows this is for the best, not only for those you are harming, but also even for you. You will have less to regret forever and ever.

7.) God’s infinite, unchangeable love does mean He is always and forever good to you. Not necessarily gentle, but always good, even when, for your benefit, it’s a harsh goodness. He will never mistreat you. Even if you are in hell, it will be not because He is retaliating against you, but because you are incapable of heaven, incapable of returning His boundless, unfathomable love which is heaven.

I think many people misunderstand one or more of these points about God's love, and those misunderstandings are one factor in their belief that God hates some people some of the time. They think if He didn't, He would be unjust. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

God is love.

God is light.

In Him is no darkness at all.

.

12 comments:

Elizabeth said...

Anastasia,
as always, your thoughtful posts inspire me and reassure me.

Quite why people find the idea of God ***hating, loathing and despising** sinners to be so attractive beats me........

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

Thanks, Elizabeth, as always.

Without knowing for sure, I suspect many people are projecting their own hostilities (toward others but also themselves)onto God, thus giving them an "acceptable" outlet. One does find, among people who think God hates, a high percentage of people who display their hostility quite openly, and/or quite soon.

Dixie said...

I agree with Elizabeth. I so enjoy you dispelling the notions of a self-loathing that resolves itself in creating a god who hates us! What a nightmare some theologies become! I think of poor Martin Luther who couldn't love this god who hated him and could never be satisfied. Who could fault him for that? I couldn't love that god either!

I am so grateful to have found the God of the Orthodox Christian faith, the Lover of mankind.

Seek and you shall find...indeed!

JTKlopcic said...

One of your best posts yet!

Elijah the Tishbite said...

I'm not necessarily disagreeing with your post, but what do you do with verses like these:
"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)?

The way I see it, the issue is not God hating sinners, but what He does about it in Jesus Christ.

Tim

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

Hi, Tim,

For how I handle such passages, see my post at http://anastasias-corner.blogspot.com/2008/05/does-god-hate-sinners.html

But if "the issue is not God hating sinners, but what He does about it in Jesus Christ," then the first thing to clarify is, what He does about what? What He does in general about sinners, or what He does specifically about allegedly hating them?

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

P.S.) And here are two other posts I once wrote that may help give some context to that passage, Tim.

http://anastasias-corner.blogspot.com/2008/02/gods-love-and-wrath.html

http://anastasias-corner.blogspot.com/2008/01/doctrine-of-celestial-prig.html

Elijah the Tishbite said...

"But if 'the issue is not God hating sinners, but what He does about it in Jesus Christ,' then the first thing to clarify is, what He does about what? What He does in general about sinners, or what He does specifically about allegedly hating them?"

About sinners; i.e., He makes them righteous by joining them to His Son in Baptism by the Word and faith.

Tim

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

Okay. That's the main issue.

But I still think another issue, and an important one, is whether God ever hates anyone.

The Celtic Chimp said...

Anastasia,

Are you taking some liberties with the notion of Hell? Can you back up this interpretation with scripture?

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

Hi, Celtic,

Um...re-reading this post, I don't see where I've dealt at all with what Hell is. Are you perhaps referring to some other post I've referenced in the comments? Or what is it you are questioning, specifically?

Anonymous said...

thank u for ur thoughts and helping me to understand gods love and do the right thing