Those words were spoken a few years ago by a well-known preacher, and they created no small stir. People from all over reacted adversely. Champions of the faith went to great lengths to defend God from such libelous accusations. “God is love,” they heralded. “He hates sin but loves the sinner.”
I don’t know how the preacher said what he did (e.g., tone, facial features, gestures, etc.) or the context in which he spoke those words, but I do know that the Bible clearly says God both loves sinners AND hates sinners.
- “You hate all evildoers. You destroy those who speak lies; the Lord abhors the bloodthirsty
and deceitful man.” (Ps. 5:5-6)
- “The Lord . . . hates the wicked and the one who loves violence.” (Ps. 11:5)
In fact, fourteen times in the first fifty psalms alone we are told that God hates the sinner, that his wrath is on the liar, and so forth.
This troubles many people (including Christians). It is hard to fathom that God could actually hate us. Our sin, yes. Us, no!
Professor D.A. Carson writes, “We have been force-fed the doctrines of self-esteem for so long that most people don’t really view themselves as sinners worthy of divine wrath. On top of that, religious liberalism, humanism, evangelical compromise, and ignorance of the Scriptures have all worked against a right understanding of who God is.”
Proverbs 6:16-19 states, “There are six things the Lord hates, seven that are detestable to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush into evil, a false witness who pours out lies and a person who stirs up conflict in the community.”
This passage does not include just things God hates; it includes people he hates. His hatred is not directed at some abstract thing (i.e., sin), but the sinner himself.
One of our problems is that we think love and hate are mutually exclusive categories. We think God cannot both love AND hate sinners at the same time, but that is not true. God’s love includes hate. Professor Miroslav Volf writes: “Think of Rwanda . . . where 800,000 people were hacked to death in one hundred days (April 7—mid July, 1994)! How did God react to the carnage? By doting on the perpetrators in a grandparently fashion? . . . Wasn’t God fiercely angry with them? Though I used to complain about the indecency of the idea of God’s wrath, I came to think that I would have to rebel against a God who wasn’t wrathful at the sight of the world’s evil. God isn’t wrathful in spite of being love. God is wrathful because God is love.”
Of course, we must understand that God’s hate is altogether unlike ours. There is no malice or spite in it. No ego. Nothing self-serving. His hatred is pure, tempered, excellent, and righteous.
I know, language about God and his hating of sinners is dangerous and easily misconstrued. God forbid that anything detract from the great news that “(He) so loved the world” (Jn. 3:16). At the same time, we need to take care that we do not dispense with a truth from the Bible that is simply counter-intuitive to our limited understanding. The Bible doesn’t say what we expect it to say—especially when it comes to love. The cross is a case in point.
Why does this matter? What’s at stake?
Joy is in proportion to the gift. When Jesus went to Calvary, He endured the penalty of our sin. He took our place. “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). Did you see that? He died for us—not just our sins. Jesus shouldered all God’s wrath and suffered all God’s rightful hatred toward sinners so we could be on friendly terms with God. May this truth amaze us and fill us with joy unspeakable and full of glory!
Does God hate sinners? Yes. Does God love sinners? YES!!!
The gospel is bittersweet. As pastor and author Tim Keller notes, “We are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared believe, yet at the very same time we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope.”
“For if, when we were God’s enemies,
we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son,
how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!
Not only is this so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ,
through whom we have now received reconciliation.” (Romans 5:10-11)