My struggle with “the”

“Hate the sin, love the sinner.”

That might be the most overused phrase in the church. At the very least it ranks up there with “fence straddler” and blasting the lottery as things often said, but never printed in the Bible.

I’m not going to lie, I’ve said this a lot, and thought it even more.

Recently, however, hearing this phrase has begun causing me to cringe. There was just something about it that made me instantly kind of grit my teeth at whomever was tossing it around, especially if the tosser was me.

Naturally, my mind went racing in an attempt to figure out why, and the more I thought about it, the more I realized it was the word “the” that was really ticking me off.

Hate “the” sin.

There’s just something about this phrase that makes me feel like the person saying it is creating some sort of distance between him or herself and sin. It’s like saying I hate “that” sin, that specific sin to which whomever I’m referring to is taking part in, but that I’m not involved with.

Now there’s nothing wrong with me saying I hate a sin. I mean, God hates all sin, but singling out one particular sin, especially one I’m not prone to, just feels extremely self righteous. Almost as if I’m looking down on the person struggling.

Shouldn’t I instead be saying simply, “hate sin?” If my hatred for sin is to be accurate with God’s, shouldn’t it be all-inclusive like that?

Shouldn’t it not only include other people’s sin, but first and foremost, my own?

That’s a tough pill to swallow because to be honest, there’s a few sins of which I still find myself fond. There’s a few that are really, really hard for me to hate.

Regardless, before I started hating another person’s sin, I should first be gutsy enough to hate my own.

Then there’s love “the” sinner.

Now maybe it’s a bit nit picky that the love side of this equation bothers me at all, but yet again, “the” seems to put some distance between me and whomever I’m referring to. It feels almost like a way of asserting that there is some difference between me and this other person.

But really, am I all that different from “the” sinner?

Scratch that, better question.

Am I at all different from “the” sinner? In terms of have fallen prey to some temptation, aren’t we both standing on common ground?

I think so, and I think that’s at the root of what’s really bothering me about this whole phrase. I think it’s the feeling that I have some sort of moral superiority that allows me to pinpoint this person’s problem and then feel like I’m offering them grace at the same time.

I don’t want to do that.

Not because I don’t want to help people overcome their struggles, I do, and not because I don’t want other people to have grace, I do. I just don’t feel in any way, shape or form, worthy of being a measure stick for sin and I know I’m not qualified to offer them the grace they need.

Instead, I want to point them in the direct of the person who actually is qualified for both of these tasks — God.

Instead of saying “hate the sin, love the sinner,” from now on, I think I’m simply going to say, “hate sin, love people.” I’m going to do my best to hate all sin, my own most of all, while at the same time loving other people in a way that communicates a sense of commonality. I sense that we both have the same needs.

Hopefully by doing so, a bond rather than a wall will be built between me and others. And hopefully that bond that will in some way help lead others to the person truly qualified to hate “the” sin and love “the” sinners.



About travman44

I work as a reporter for a newspaper in southwest Virginia. I play as a writer specializing in deep thoughts on shallow, and occasionally not so shallow, subjects. I'm also a former history teacher, bible college alum, and lover of the NBA and kids' breakfast cereals. It's a delicate blend. -- @TravisKWilliams on Twitter
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2 Responses to My struggle with “the”

  1. “hate sin, love people” seems to be right in line with-

    But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)

    I like it.

  2. An honest, heartfelt wrangling with this dangerous, destructive, and divisive phrase. Nicely done.

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