We might do ourselves a huge favor if we actually defined “sin.”
Or at least considered what it essentially is. Such a pervasive, powerful, and even misused religious word certainly deserves some scrutiny.
In the New Testament, the Greek term hamartia is the word most commonly translated “sin.” The term was actually developed by Aristotle, and is derived from the school of archery – a way of saying that an arrow was shot, and that this arrow hamartia, that is, “missed the mark” of the target. Aristotle appropriated that basis as a way to cast the flaws of heroes within Greek tragedies. It caught on, and, by the first century, it was a more common term, having been adopted in usage far beyond the poets and philosophers of Greece.
There are many directions the discussion of “sin” can be taken, and many words used to communicate the sense of it. In scripture, there is no one term that is always used – not in any of the three languages the Bible was originally written in. Even in the Old Testament Hebrew, there is no all-encompassing religious term for the concept, though “sin” appears in our English Old Testaments as well.
That alone should tell us that something is off in our understanding of (and teaching on) "sin".
To say something is “sin” is to say it is “wrong”, or “bad”, or that it somehow falls short of the ideal. It has "missed the mark". Sin, essentially, is imperfection. Though not everyone likes the religious connotation of “sin” (which is understandable given much of Christianity’s history), most will agree that people are, in fact “flawed”, “broken”, or imperfect. People "miss the mark". And that’s really all “sin” needs to mean. If the original languages are any indication (and they are), we have done much to needlessly over-consolidate the concept, as the simplicity of human imperfection has given way to a grandiose dogma of religiosity - the term in use now carrying too much power. (How ironic that we might make every effort to no longer be "slaves to sin" and yet remain ever more in bondage to the word itself?)
Recasting our "You Have Heard It Said" in that light, we might render it, "Love the imperfect; hate the imperfection." Can we see all the more how hard that distinction is to make without a toxic spillover of hate? We are marked by imperfection/sin in this world. So to say, "Love that imperfect person but hate their imperfection" is obviously going to be confusing at best.
It's important to bear that in mind throughout the rest of this entry.
Of course, it’s true that God "hates" sin – God hates that which damages relationships and falls in line with entropy – and this may be why we're used to thinking we need to do the same. And in some senses and situations, we do. (If we're talking generally about "genocide" or "child abuse" then I might be able to confidently say, "I hate that!" without any negative fallout.) But the problem arises when we're talking about someone we know who [insert imperfection here]... That's when things get complicated. That's when things get messy.
You see, once we're talking about a real and specific person, we find that, in many ways...
We lack the ability to hate a thing separately from the person we associate it with.
When we hate something that we directly associate with someone, we find that it affects the way we treat that person. We simply cannot distinguish the way God can, nor can we judge with the fullness of understanding or discernment which God possesses. It’s just about impossible for us to hate in a vacuum when we hate some direct aspect of a person. Hate works its way into our motivations, feelings, and actions.
For this reason, we shouldn't be so quick to assume we can automatically equate God’s perception of hate with our own. It is both arrogant and presumptuous of us to do so. There is great overconfidence in our assuming that whatever “big issue” we view as wrong with a person is the same thing God recognizes and/or wishes to deal with more than anything else. (Not to mention the mistaken focus we take in thinking our attention to any symptom is dealing with the true sickness at the root of a person anyway…)
It’s dangerous for us to be looking for things to hate about people in the way we do.
If we were more interested in simply introducing people to the character of God in how we live alongside them, we could rest in God getting to work on the most important things once that relationship was established. This is God’s way. The work of transformation is a work of the Spirit in those who know God and are being made new into God's image. It is not a work of conformity by the religious, fitting those who do not claim to know God into a mold that the religious find more morally convenient to themselves. If we truly had God’s perspective to the degree we frequently let on, we’d live in a markedly different world. Since we do not, we should not pretend otherwise. And we should not allow love to be superseded by anything else.
But as much as some of these concerns have stung me in the sensing (and the writing), meditating on them eventually left me considering something far more beautiful...
See, the inverse of this hate concept is also true...
Just as we lack the ability to HATE aspects of people without hating the people themselves, the good news is that we also lack the ability to LOVE aspects of people without that love spilling over onto the people in general. This is the beautiful truth, the remedy, and the path forward. When we take delight in the specific and particular ways a person is wired - his or her sensibilities and sensitivities, giftings, talents, etc - that celebration of something about the person translates to them that they are valued. And to know you are valued is to know that you matter to others, and that the ones who value you would do whatever it takes in order to maintain that connection with you... A person who is valued and cherished and celebrated is a person who starts to believe he or she is precious and made in the image of God. A person like this begins to treat themselves as though brokenness does not define them.
From either way we look at it, the reality becomes clear:
We cannot separate LOVE and HATE from our attitudes and actions.
Of course, some would argue back...
“But love is tough! I don’t love you if I don’t make it my duty to tell you what I think is wrong with you!”
…It’s funny, since they've probably been fed this religious slogan by the same establishment that fed them “love the sinner; hate the sin.” And I’m not above that. I’ve used some form of this argument myself in the past, knowing in the depth of my heart that it didn't sit right. Knowing that - at best - it was a deceptive way to stifle a valid argument, even while potentially losing a person and relationship with that person in the process. Some variation of this is generally spoken with a phony smile befitting the phony love it masks. The general idea is, you can excuse yourself of being accountable to love, so long as you attribute the hate and distance you express toward another person to your "speaking the truth" or something similar...
But let's be honest and admit: It’s all another evasion. Another cliché. Another way of getting around the simple command of Christ, “Love one another as I have loved You.”
When we mistake something that jumps out to us personally as though it were God’s number one priority, we then act out on our own biases and limitations. For many of us, this means we aim a false ‘tough love’ in the wrong direction, and it then acts as the smoke and mirrors we need to continue looking down on others while remaining unchanged and unchallenged ourselves.
We prop up the illusion of our being correct, and try to provide ourselves a license to avoid being transformed into the very essence of God, which is love.
We think we can disguise our hearts by enacting this sort of made-up technicality, but the only people we deceive are ourselves. Our lack of tender mercies or the warm embrace of empathy is painfully obvious to those who need it most. And then, once they’ve shown (understandable) distaste for what we’re approaching them with, we add insult to injury by dismissing them as being “closed,” or “lost,” or “seared,” or a host of other rude and judgmental descriptions.
We often don't even REALIZE that we may have played a part in making “good news” so pathetically bad.
Do we really not see this? Love is the ultimate desire of every heart. It's the answer every person on the planet is looking for. And people don’t need the church to show them false or superficial love. They don't need the church to see love in word only. People can find false, shallow love anywhere. It's not that difficult. And when they see insecure people who are quick to distance themselves and attach cheap labels to them, they are finding that false love in us… Which should make us wonder: What makes us think we're so different from “the world” …if we're not? The Apostle John made one of the biggest and simplest statements in all of scripture:
“God is love.”
And God’s people will forever be those truly marked by and saturated with love. There is no way around this. They are people of every type - every nation, every tribe, and every tongue - but what they have in common is this: God’s people take on God’s nature. And if “God’s people” devise ways to not love, if they scheme in their hearts these evasions and excuses and deceptions over what God is like and expects them to be… If they delude themselves into thinking they can remain unchanged at the core, that they can somehow represent God while fundamentally avoiding God's character… They cannot in any rational sense claim to be "God's people."
It’s very interesting when you consider that the attribute of God which people most often diminish their capacity to echo is love.
I say it’s "interesting" because love is the very thing God explicitly and consistently commands of people... Wouldn't it be fair to say that God believes we are able to do exactly as we’re commanded? When we reduce or lessen our capacity to live the life we've been called to, do we not realize this is like telling God that the promises and expectations of a transformed life are unrealistic and irrational? What a pitiful excuse for anyone who claims to live by faith. It doesn't end there either. We see a lot of selfish laziness and stagnancy disguised as “humility” amongst believers. But make no mistake: It is a false humility – the one which relishes its own lack of growth, not dreaming the same dream God is dreaming, instead hiding from the light and insulating itself with clichés.
We're told to love more often than anything else in the New Testament. And yet, when situations (or people) in life challenge us specifically to love more – to be more radical or more consistent with our love – we might say something like, “Well, I'm not God…” and miss the opportunity we have to grow in God's likeness by reflecting God's character. The God we believe resides within us is told to stay out of things. Many of us, when challenged to love, have made this excuse, suggesting that radical love is the domain of God alone… And yet, we have less of a problem quickly taking up the mantle of hate, as though THAT was ever laid before us? We'll say, "It's not me, it's God - I just hate what God hates." How quickly our standards change when it costs us nothing and we can carve out religiously-sanctioned ways to remain hateful! From that hate comes a myriad of poison fruits: apathy, violence, unforgiveness, judgement... and all the other things that are broken in this world... as we devalue one another.
But transformation is to be our reality. Love, our calling card.
Sister, brother, believer, dreamer, seeker… Do not lose that.
Do not give it up. Never. Not for anything. Remove the compartments of the heart which prevent love from truly taking root and springing forth. Never for one second believe that you can "love someone into the kingdom" by hating whatever you think is wrong with them. And love the imperfect, without letting the fact that they're imperfect deter you. Don't save room to hate their imperfection. You don't need it, and neither do they.
Why else would anyone need pure love without condition...
if not for the fact that they... like you... are broken?
"I have decided to stick with love.
Hate is too great a burden to bear."