God Loves the Sinner, but Hates the Sin? That was the question in Episode 140 of Ask Pastor John, a 6 minute audio response by John Piper on 7/31/2013 This resonated with me because of a comment to my earlier post, Danica Patrick on Love and Marriage. I noted that while it is popular to speak of God’s unconditional love, that can be easily misunderstood and downplay another attribute of God, his holiness, and thus his wrath against sinners.
God’s love is unconditional to the extent that no sin is so great but that Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross was more than adequate to pay the penalty for it. No sin is so great but that there is hope for those who repent and receive Christ as the atoning sacrifice for their sin.
But there clearly are conditions to God’s love in the reception and application of it. Even a simple reading of John 3:16 shows this. For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. The application of God’s love is clearly conditional on whoever believes in him.
And as this is further explained in John 3;18, Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.
And again in John 3:36, Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them.
It struck me this past Sunday as we were singing “The Love of God,” which includes “It goes beyond the highest star and reaches to the lowest hell.” O, really? If that is the poet’s way of saying that God’s love reaches to the extremes of our experience, then it’s true – And that is the way I have always interpreted that song. But if it is meant literally that God’s love reaches into hell, it’s not true. There is no love that penetrates into the fully just and eternal condemnation of unrepentant sinners.
Ultimately, it is impossible to have this dichotomy of God’s hate for sin and love for sinners. God both loves the sinner enough to give His Son as the sacrifice, but there is another sense, in which God ultimately and justly hates the sinner. He even says, Yet I have loved Jacob, but Esau I have hated, Malachi 1:2,3 D. A. Carson notes at least five different ways in which God loves; and that numerous times in the Bible, God declares His hate for sinners. Fourteen times in the first fifty Psalms, God’s hatred for sinners is declared. God both loves the sinner and hates the sin; and ultimately hates the sinner.
Thus the urgency of responding to God’s love now by receiving Christ, not presuming on God’s patience. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come… 2 Peter 3:9, 10
For further study, in addition to the 6 minute audio response by John Piper (above), a great little book to help with this issue is The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God by D. A. Carson. Crossway Books, 2000.