Hating the sin, loving the sinner

by
July 28, 2009

When Jesus Christ was on the earth, he was criticized for eating with “publicans and sinners” (Matt 9:10-11). His opponents felt that he was being too friendly with people whose choices were not those of righteousness. However, Jesus consistently taught love for those whom we are not inclined to love (Matt 5:44). He showed us the example by his love for Roman invaders, thieves, harlots and other people whom he had every apparent reason to despise. An important aspect of the Savior’s example is that even though he loves all with an incomprehensible love, he “cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance”. As members of His church, we seek to emulate this characteristic, which is summed up in the oft-quoted maxim “hate the sin, love the sinner.”

Of course this phrase isn’t strictly doctrinal, but it serves as a simple reminder of some very Christian practices. In our quest to emulate the savior we seek to become as he is: perfect, just and merciful (Alma 42: 15). Of course, we know that all men sin and “come short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23). Yet we still cannot, as disciples of Christ, condone sinful practices, either in ourselves or others. For this reason we strive, as individuals, parents, friends, voting citizens and in all other capacities, to promote measures that encourage righteousness and discourage practices that go against the revealed will of God.

I personally find that understanding a person’s motives allows us to sympathize with them as individuals even though we do not condone their behavior. I think of Dostoyevsky’s novel “Crime and Punishment”, in which the protagonist is a murderer and another main character is a harlot. Throughout the novel you discover that the murderer and the harlot are both very human—almost pitiable. They are motivated by such common emotions as individualism, helplessness, despair and caring. This understanding does not justify them for doing wrong nor does it exempt them from punishment (as shown in the end). However, committing ourselves to treating all people as humans with human motives and desires allows us to love them more fully.

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