Does God hate the sin but love the sinner?

“There is a small element of truth in these words: God has nothing but hate for the sin, but it would be wrong to conclude that God has nothing but hate for the sinner. A difference must be maintained between God’s view of sin and his view of the sinner. Nevertheless the cliché (God hates the sin but loves the sinner) is false on the face of it and should be abandoned. Fourteen times in the first fifty psalms alone, we are told that God hates the sinner, his wrath is on the liar, and so forth. In the Bible, the wrath of God rests both on the sin (Rom. 1:18ff.) and on the sinner (John 3:36).

Our problem, in part, is that in human experience wrath and love normally abide in mutually exclusive compartments. Love drives wrath out, or wrath drives love out. We come closest to bringing them together, perhaps, in our responses to a wayward act by one of our children, but normally we do not think that a wrathful person is loving.

But this is not the way it is with God. God’s wrath is not an implacable, blind rage. However emotional it may be, it is an entirely reasonable and willed response to offenses against his holiness. But his love … wells up amidst his perfections and is not generated by the loveliness of the loved. Thus there is nothing intrinsically impossible about wrath and love being directed toward the same individual or people at the same time. God in his perfections must be wrathful against his rebel image-bearers, for they have offended him; God in his perfections must be loving toward his rebel image-bearers, for he is that kind of God.”

D. A. Carson, The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God (2000 Crossway books), page 68-69.

27 replies
  1. Bnonn
    Bnonn says:

    I've always despised this particular saying. Much like I've despised the song "Jesus Loves Me". Theological half-truths are the most dangerous kind.

  2. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    Do you also despise the scriptures on which the statement "Jesus loves me" is based? i.e. John 3:16

  3. Olu sanuade
    Olu sanuade says:

    God loves Sinners and Wicked People but hate sins and its agents:

    We have seen this in the City of Nineveh. Despite the wickedness of the people in Nineveh, GOD still called them for repentance through Jonah. GOD loves the people of Nineveh and continue to pursue Jonah who wanted them to perish. The Scripture says GOD made Jonah to realise the Love He has for the people of Nineveh. Yes! GOD loves Sinners and hate iniquities and wickedness.

  4. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    Does you think that "Jesus loves me" is false? Is this a conclusion you have arrived post exegesis? If so, we have some profound disagreements.

  5. D Bnonn Tennant
    D Bnonn Tennant says:

    As I said, it's a theological half-truth. There is God's beneficence toward sinners in general, and then there is God's particular affection toward the elect. One is not like the other; but 'Jesus Loves Me' at least implies the latter, rather than the former, with the line "little ones to him belong".

    A child could quite understandably think, "This song is telling me that I belong to God, and that Jesus the savior loves me as one of his own, so I am a Christian and I am saved". And the fault, of course, would lie with the people who taught him that insipid song.

  6. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    Ok then, let me rephrase: Do you consider the statement "Jesus loves me," to be deceptive in any way? It sure sounds like thats what you're saying.

    As for me, I just don't see cause to call it "insipid." I don't see the fault in the child's interpretation of the meaning of the song. In fact, I think that's one of the great, wonderful, majestic, and powerful truths of the gospel, no less diminished for its simplicity.

  7. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    Stuart, wouldn't you say context matters? I think that is Bnonn's point about the song.

    One child might hear the song and eventually be driven to explore who God is and what exactly this Gospel is that reveals His love for humanity and, in time, place their trust in Christ. This is a good outcome.

    However, another child might hear the song and assume that they're 'ok', God already loves them, they don't need to repent of anything or change anything about how they live and simply go on with their lives.

    The problem is that the second outcome is far more likely given today's cultural climate. If there is one thing that people take for granted about God, it is that He loves them. Few believe in a God of wrath who needs to be propitiated. Most people believe that the greatest problem is that we don't love ourselves enough and in fact, what we most need is to accept ourselves and each other. Into this situation, can't you see how singing this song is unhelpful?

    Within a robust framework of teaching and Biblical understanding, Christians can sing this song with passion and gratitude. It's dangerous when it is on the lips of others who have little grasp of the full Christian message.

  8. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    Its not clear if that is what Bnonn is saying. Hence the questions I pose to him. If what you have outlined – regarding the context in which the song is sung – is what Bnonn is saying, then I can agree it makes a difference. I disagree on the extent of that difference. I think a child within a context without a robust framework of teaching and Biblical understanding would not interpret that song in the manner you describe. I also disagree that the current cultural climate is as you describe. I think the predominant image secular people have of God is one of staunch and unyielding judgment and condemnation.

    I think our understanding of the love that God has towards us should be commensurate with what Jesus has revealed: Like a middle eastern man who eagerly waits on the porch every day for his lost son, and who, when he sees him, hikes up his dress and runs to meet him, kisses him and call for a celebration.

  9. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    That's fine. I guess we can agree to disagree about the extent of the difference it makes. And I actually do agree that it's not inevitable that a child would understand the song exactly in the second way I describe. But while it may not be inevitable, I do think it is likely. Especially given the predominant beliefs and base-line cultural narratives that pervade society.

    Also, it's interesting and surprising to hear you say that you disagree about the cultural climate as I've described it. Of course, I realise our cultural contexts could be different (and there can even be contradictory trends within the same cultural context) but for the West and especially America, most surveys show that the overwhelming majority believe that God is benevolent. For example, according to Baylor University professor's Paul Froese and Christopher Bader, 85 per cent of Americans affirm this. In fact, they suggest that it is the single thing that all those who are religious have in common. According to J. Gordon Melton, director of the Institute for the Study of American Religion, "Within evangelical Christianity [the view of an angry, judging God] is still spoken about, but everywhere else it is almost gone." I'd be intrigued to hear about the contexts you've encountered where this is not the general pattern.

  10. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    Yes, I think perhaps you are highlighting a difference between northern American culture and New Zealand culture. Apparently approximately 60% of folk here are either atheist or agnostic.

  11. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    Are you sure? Wikipedia claims that the situation in New Zealand is the opposite of what you say. It states that the 2006 census showed 35 per cent without religion. Another study, conducted at Massey University in 2008, indicated that at least 72 per cent believe in God or a higher power. Those statistics don't sound too different to the rest of the West.

  12. Bnonn
    Bnonn says:

    My experience is certainly that most people believe in some kind of higher power, and are happy enough to call it "God". And as you say, Jared, if they think about it at all they generally take the view that this power loves them just the way they are.

    My objection to the song is simple: it clearly implies salvific love, when that love is patently not something a child can know. If it were something a child could know, we'd let children take communion and be baptized; and children who "knew" it would never fall away from the faith.

  13. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    In the same book that is quoted above, the author also goes on to say much the same thing:

    "In generations when almost everyone believed in the justice of God, people sometimes found it difficult to believe in the love of God. The preaching of the love of God came as wonderful good news. Nowadays if you tell people that God loves them, they are unlikely to be surprised. Of course God loves me; he’s like that, isn’t he? Besides, why shouldn’t he love me? I’m kind of cute, or at least as nice as the next person. I’m okay, you’re okay, and God loves you and me.

    "Even in the mid-1980s, according to Andrew Greeley, three quarters of his respondents in an important poll reported that they preferred to think of God as “friend” than as “king.” I wonder what the percentage would have been if the option had been “friend” or “judge.” Today most people seem to have little difficulty believing in the love of God; they have far more difficulty believing in the justice of God, the wrath of God, and the noncontradictory truthfulness of an omniscient God." (11-12)

  14. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    It seems to me your objections then, are not as a Christian per se, but as a Reformed Baptist and Calvinist.

  15. Jared Clarke
    Jared Clarke says:

    It seems to me that your objections to Bnonn's objections are not as a Christian per se, but as an Arminian, a paedocommunionist and a paedobaptist.

    Can't we can all play that game?

  16. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    Thats unfair, I think. It's not a game. My point was Bnonn's objections are based on distinctives of Reformed Baptist and Calministic theology, and not reliant on the broader gamut of what is legitimately Christian.

  17. Bnonn
    Bnonn says:

    What is legitimately Christian is exactly the issue. If in fact Jesus only savingly loves those who have been born again, and one cannot be "unborn", then teaching 'Jesus Loves Me' to children is pretty illegitimate. We don't know they've been born again.

    I'm not inclined to capitulate to theological error just because it falls within the "broader gamut" of doctrine that can't generally be considered damnable heresy.

  18. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    Bnonn,

    That's a precise confirmation of my previous observation.

    Lets try not conflate "legitimately Christian" with a particular distinctive of Calvinist theology, namely that one cannot be "unborn."

    Stepping back a little, I think you're reading too much into the children's song. I don't think the the songs message is, or the impression of its meaning is that since "Jesus loves me" he will therefore save me.

  19. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    Bnonn,

    That’s a precise confirmation of my previous observation.

    Lets try not conflate “legitimately Christian” with a particular distinctive of Calvinist theology, namely that one cannot be “unborn.”

    Stepping back a little, I think you’re reading too much into the children’s song. I don’t think the the songs message is, or the impression of its meaning is that since “Jesus loves me” he will therefore save me.

  20. Jared Clarke
    Jared Clarke says:

    Stuart, labeling a position is no substitute for actually addressing it.

    Why not actually attend to the exegesis of the passage and the substance of Bnonn's argument rather than using the tactic of dismissing his position just because you have classified it?

  21. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    Jared,

    I am not dismissing his position. I am merely noting an observation now I understand Bnonn's objection to the song. This observation is that since Bnonn's position is based solely on distinctives of Reformed Baptist and Calvinist theology, a Christian need not necessarily have to adopt Bnonn's repugnance of it.

    You want me to do exegesis? Is there a passage of scripture in view? Or is it exegesis of the children's song? What would be the point in ? I have far more pressing projects than to argue against Calvinist theology.

  22. ChrisLT
    ChrisLT says:

    Thanks for this quote, Jason. This is the first time I've come across an explanation that seeks to reconcile the two Biblical truths, rather than insist on one or the other. Sometimes things have to be held in tension to get the full truth.

  23. Alan C
    Alan C says:

    Bnonn/Stu,
    Your debate raises a lot of issues close to my heart. Of course Bnonn is right. “Jesus Loves me” is not the complete Gospel of Jesus Christ. Although true it is a half truth. But then isn’t that the case for every spiritual song, sermon, Christian book, and devotion? I remember once when I was preaching on the holiness of God I had a man walk out in a huff half way through. His problem was that I was preaching judgement and not the love of God. He was right but then I was at a loss as to how I could preach the FULL gospel including love, holiness, wrath, redemption, election, salvation, atonement, the fall, heaven/hell, discipleship, sacrifice, reconciliation, etc in one sermon. The Good News of Jesus Christ is only complete in the full canon of scripture in its entirety. Any attempt to match this with spiritual songs, sermons, Christian books or devotions will fall greatly short as these are penned by mortal men. We need not despise every spiritual song etc because of this though. I do however agree with Bnonn that the “Jesus Loves me” verse is often taken wildly out of context. I actually object to John 3:16 being the choice of verse to represent the summation of the gospel in western culture as it does not demonstrate our sinful state (something that is often lacking in our culture). I would prefer 1 John 1:9 as a candidate for this position, but then this perhaps shrinks the gospel down to an individual level?

  24. Constant Laubscher
    Constant Laubscher says:

    Interesting point…then it would be fair to say God loves the people

    of Japan, although not Christian.

  25. Constant Laubscher
    Constant Laubscher says:

    Yes why are we so afraid of wrath? I agree Alan, we need to preach a

    balanced gospel. Not just love, not just wrath, but rather both and then

    some. The gospel has become politically correct (hence no wrath and

    the move towards universal salvation and no hell [everybody is a winner]

    for example). I think we need to be brave enough to engage with the

    questions and issues people have

    on both topics.

    We definitely need to preach and present and live a well balanced

    gospel.

    Interesting thing – the quote (from what I understand) was first used by

    Ghandi (can anyone confirm this?). Are we building our theology on

    secular philosophy?

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