Friday, January 14, 2011

Does God Hate Sinners? Reprint IV

Tragically, many people think He does.

Pastor Snyder teaches that God hates sinners. Furthermore, I have seen at least one Lutheran blog reprint this piece.

Pr. Snyder can cite some passages of Scripture to “prove” it, too, such as Psalm 5:5 and Jeremiah 12:8.

Just today I had an exchange with someone who seems very, very nice, but listen to who He believes God is.

He wrote, "The Father loves us on account of Christ and always listens to His Son’s pleas for His people."

I replied, “But surely the Father always loved us, before Christ came, from the foundation of the world, eternally even, which is why He sent Christ in the first place. Yes?”

He answered, “…He loved the world in such a way that He sent His Son Christ to take care of what would actually cause the Father to hate us all... sin.”

Dear pastors, and everybody else, I have excellent news for you, wonderful, joyous news for you: God can be perfectly just (and is!) without hating anybody, ever.

To show how this can be, I’d like to remind you of three basic principles upon which, I expect, we can all agree.

1.) Christ is the Light of the World (John 8:12, 9:5, 14:6)

He is the perfect, definitive, ultimate revelation of God. Therefore, we interpret absolutely every thing in life in His light. That includes the Old Testament. “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” We must understand the Father first and foremost in terms of Jesus Christ, not first and foremost by the comparatively feeble light of the Old Testament.

Not that the Old Testament is a feeble light, either! I said, “comparatively,” compared to the revelation in Christ. Yet, another thing we must always remember is that, according to the Fathers, it is always Christ who speaks in both Testaments. Therefore, if God in the Old Testament says He hates us, it is Christ speaking.

So what do we learn from the Jesus, the Word Incarnate, about God’s attitude toward sinners?
"You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so? Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.” (Matthew 5:43-48; see also Luke 6:27-36.)

God blesses the good and the evil alike with rain and sunshine. We are to imitate His goodness, loving our enemies as He loves His. We are to love your enemies, bless those who curse us, do good to those who hate us, precisely for the sake of being like our Father in heaven.

2.) God is Immutable

"Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning." (James 1:17)

That God is immutable means He never changes. It doesn’t mean He cannot vary His actions toward us, in response to innumerable changes of circumstance. But it does mean He does not change His disposition toward us, His attitude toward us. He is not fickle, but constant and true. “His mercy endures forever” is a phrase that occurs 41 times in Holy Scripture. “God is love,” and nothing we do could ever change almighty God, even in the slightest, and it is downright presumptuous to suppose we could.

St. Anthony wrote:

God is good, dispassionate, and immutable. Now someone who thinks it reasonable and true to affirm that God does not change, may well ask how, in that case, it is possible to speak of God as rejoicing over those who are good and showing mercy to those who honor Him, and as turning away from the wicked and being angry with sinners. To this it must be answered that God neither rejoices nor grows angry, for to rejoice and to be offended are passions; nor is He won over by the gifts of those who honor Him, for that would mean He is swayed by pleasure. It is not right that the Divinity feel pleasure or displeasure from human conditions. (Philokalia, Chapter 150, St. Anthony the Great)
It is not possible for God to feel wrathful toward us at one time and compassionate another. There’s no such thing as, “It’s time to have compassion,” if that implies there was ever a time for not having compassion. God does not change!

Some people teach that unless God changed, we would be consumed, but Scripture tells us the very opposite: it is because He never changes that we are not consumed. “[It is of] the LORD'S mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not.” (Lamentations 3:22) “For I [am] the LORD, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed.” (Malachi 3:6.)

Of old You laid the foundation of the earth,
And the heavens are the work of Your hands.
They will perish, but You will endure;
Yes, they will all grow old like a garment;
Like a cloak You will change them,
And they will be changed.
But You are the same,
And Your years will have no end.
(Psalm 102:25-27; Hebrews 1:10-12)
God will never be angry with you, not literally.  So why do you need to be in His good graces (so to speak)?  Because that is the only true and pure Joy there is, the only genuine and lasting Peace.  That is our destiny, our authentic meaning and purpose, for which all men were created.

 3.) God’s love is infinite

There is no such thing as a border on God’s love. There is no boundary we can cross, such that God will cease loving us and hate us instead. God is infinite. And God is love.

Infinity also implies there is nothing else, nothing that is not love, countering or balancing or modifying God’s love. He does not love us and hate us at the same time, nor alternately, either. He is not schizoid. There is no polarity, no tension between opposites. “This then is the message which we have heard of him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.” (I John 1:5, emphasis mine)

* * * *

So what are we to make of such verses as Psalm 5:5, which says, “The boastful shall not stand in Your sight; You hate all workers of iniquity.” Or how about Jeremiah 12:8? “My heritage has become to me like a lion in a forest. She has given forth her voice against me – therefore I hated her.”

First, we are to remember that we must see all things by the Light of Christ, “For the law was given by Moses, [but] grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.” (John 1:17) Christ Himself is the context for all Scripture. When we look by the light of Christ, we see a Father who no more “hates” than He has hands or feet or eyes or a mouth, all of which Holy Scripture also speaks of His having.

Yet Scripture speaks truth, even if not literal truth, in describing God in all these ways. For example, when we speak of God’s eyes, we mean He knows everything. When we speak of His hands, we mean His power. His face denotes His presence, and so forth. His “hatred” refers to two things. One is that He does chastise sinners, and the other is that He does act to limit sin or to put a stop to it. These two facts, combined, give an appearance of hatred to those who do not know Him.

To take chastisement first, what do we see about it in the light of Christ?

"My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord,
Nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him;
For whom the Lord loves He chastens,
And scourges every son whom He receives."

If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten? But if you are without chastening, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate and not sons. Furthermore, we have had human fathers who corrected us, and we paid them respect. Shall we not much more readily be in subjection to the Father of spirits and live? For they indeed for a few days chastened us as seemed best to them, but He for our profit, that we may be partakers of His holiness. Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. (Hebrews 12:5-11)
We don’t even have to go to the New Testament for part of this; verses five and six quote Proverbs 31:11-12. (See also Deuteronomy 8:3) But here, in Hebrews, we get an exposition of the Proverb. And the exposition here tells us that God’s chastisement does not stand in contradiction to His love, but is actually a function of that very love. It is “for our profit.”

The other factor that makes hatred perhaps seem an apt metaphor for God’s response to sin is that He does always work at cross-purposes to the schemes of sinners. He defeats their wicked plans. He thwarts their enterprises. “The LORD brings the counsel of the nations to nothing; He makes the plans of the peoples of no effect.” (Psalm 33:10)

Again, He does this for the ultimate good of all concerned. This is true even when He employs violence to do it. He delivers the oppressed from the tyrants. He gives an example to the survivors (for fear is edifying). He cuts short the careers of the wicked, who would otherwise have to appear before Him at the final judgment with even more sins on their hands, even more crimes to torment them forever. For all concerned, then, He is loving them in the ways appropriate to each.

He frustrates the devices of the crafty,
So that their hands cannot carry out their plans.
He catches the wise in their own craftiness,
And the counsel of the cunning comes quickly upon them.
They meet with darkness in the daytime,
And grope at noontime as in the night.
But He saves the needy from the sword,
From the mouth of the mighty,
And from their hand.
So the poor have hope,
And injustice shuts her mouth.
(Job 5:12-16)

In fact, this is what we mean when we pray, each day during Holy Week, “Bring more evils upon them, O Lord, bring more evils upon them that are glorious upon the earth.”

Now if we go back to Jeremiah and read all of Chapter 12, we can see that Jeremiah is praying the same prayer, in different words, and receiving an answer. Both these factors, chastisement and putting a stop to evil, are what is really going on there, under the term, “hate.” David is praying a similar prayer in Psalm 5, too.

God doesn’t love you because Jesus causes Him to. God doesn’t just love you for Jesus’ sake (as if there were some discrepancy between the feelings of Father and Son!) but for His own. “I, [even] I, [am] he that blotteth out thy transgressions for mine own sake, and will not remember thy sins.” (Isaiah 43:25)

God loves you with an infinite, unchanging, unconditional, perfect love. He always has, He still does, and He always will. The love you see in Jesus not only reflects but literally IS the love of the Father as well, for "He who has seen Me has seen the Father."

“Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, and today, and for ever." (Hebrews 13:8)


Sarah in Indiana said...

I left my Lutheran catechism class in tears after arguing with the Pastor about this. I just knew in my bones that he was wrong. I knew that God loved all of His creation, even (in some ways, perhaps especially) sinners. As I say, I argued with the Pastor, but he discounted my words. I was confirmed anyway. I just trusted that he was mistaken, and I guess he didn't think it was dogmatic, or else he wrongly assumed I accepted what he said. I'm very thankful not to have had the experience repeated in Orthodox catechesis.

I was an adult at the time, and the others in the class were children, so I pray my words affected them. I'm sorry for anyone that encounters this teaching. It's dangerous, and can make people feel as though God rejects and hates them (sinners as we all are).

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

It's mostly for people in the same situation you describe, or similar ones, that I write these things.

Thanks be to God for rescuing you from that! Or rather, for having preserved you from it all along.