Some Christians have misgivings about the slogan “Love the sinner; hate the sin.” For them, the slogan seems “judgmental” and, therefore, fundamentally unchristian. I can understand a certain amount of suspicion. We don’t want to turn into fault-finders or to excuse ourselves from dealing with our own faults. But the ideas that the slogan expresses are basically sound, even rather important. And we wouldn’t want to throw out the baby with the bathwater.
The slogan captures an important and difficult truth: when someone sins, he acts in a self-destructive fashion. When a mother warns her child not to touch a hot stove, it is not because she wants the child to be unhappy. She warns the child because she knows that touching the stove is not good for the child: it is inimical to the child’s happiness and flourishing. The mother hates the idea of the child touching the stove, because she loves her child dearly. So too with God.
We may be liable to think that sin will make us happy or that some habit is sinful only if we can clearly see the harm it does to others. But, before anything else, sin is harm that we do to ourselves. Sin may be described as a refusal to live in the real world. It is a choice that fails to respect things as they are. Since human beings—rational animals—are made for truth, to act sinfully is to act in a way that is contrary to one’s own deepest interests. It is to act in a way that is contrary to true happiness.
Sometimes people criticize the slogan “Love the sinner, hate the sin” by noting that Jesus never said it. He may not have said it, but he certainly lived it. He died for us “while were yet sinners” (Rom 5:8). Why? Because he was pleased with our sins? No, because he hates our sins—precisely because he loves us. Our sin is a disease, and Jesus is our physician.
Sometimes people say that hating sin is against Jesus’s commandment, “Judge not” (Mt 7:1). But Jesus himself showed anger at people whose hearts were hardened (Mk 3:5; Jn 2:12–22), and he called some people “hypocrites” and a “brood of vipers” (Mt 23:14, 33). And the parable that he told against being judgmental—“the mote and the beam”—concludes not with a prohibition of correcting others but rather with a piece of advice about how better to correct one’s brother (Mt 7:1–5). Jesus even gives detailed instructions about how to correct a fellow Christian (Mt 18:15–17).
If sin is essentially destructive of the sinner, it is not hateful to hate it. In fact, it may be hateful not to hate it. As the Confiteor reminds us during Mass, sin concerns not only what we have done but also what we have failed to do. Let us not be content then with a diminished love that has no room for hate.
Image: Fr. Lawrence Lew, O.P., Amicitia Spiritualis (used with permission)