A “love/hate” relationship?

I’m not sure I believe that there is such a thing as a “love/hate relationship.” It’s used to describe ambivalence: sometimes I love him; sometimes I hate him. Apart from fictional relationships like Ross and Rachel on “Friends,” I don’t know that one can swing all the way to hate from real love, and then back again.

I think the phrase is more likely to be used to describe an activity that one does because of the benefits it brings but is not a source of enjoyment while doing it – running, exercise, calisthenics, etc.

The notion came to mind recently when discussing “hate speech” and its definition. It seems to me that voicing disagreement with another’s opinion is too often labeled “hate speech” even when it is nothing of the sort. Just look at the ease with which Chi-fil-A’s Cathy family have been called “haters” for vocalizing their support for traditional marriage and lamenting the way society has moved to accept gay marriage. 

One of the common phrases we have used to explain our position to unbelievers is “Hate the sin, love the sinner.” For decades, condemning sin and preaching God’s forgiveness and redemption was an effective evangelistic strategy. But for a half-century or so, evangelism has focused on God’s love and mercy, calling unbelievers into relationship with Him (think ‘Evangelism Explosion’ and ‘The Four Spiritual Laws.’). This change in strategic direction coincided with society dispensing with the notion of “sin,” as witnessed by psychologist Karl Menninger’s seminal work “Whatever Became of ‘Sin’?”

In today’s world, labeling someone’s behavior as sin is perceived as being hateful. To say we “hate the sin, but love the sinner” is dismissed as being impossible. If one hates the sin, one must also be expressing hatred of the sinner. In fact, it is considered hateful to even use the word “sinner”!

So what are we to do? If acknowledging sin and repenting of it is necessary to receive forgiveness, how do we preach the Gospel with integrity without identifying the sin? I believe it is a matter of relationship. Welcoming unbelievers into our fellowship exposes them to God’s love through us. The Holy Spirit will convict of sin; our relationship with the unbeliever then provides the opportunity to explain repentance. It is the same as a parent who has demonstrated love for the child correcting his/her behavior. Love is the platform on which the correction is based.

My wife was won to the Lord and to the Army by the warm fellowship she found at the Corps. She was not labeled a sinner (though that was her state of grace). She was wooed by the love of God as demonstrated by the officers and locals of the Corps; they welcomed her to find the same relationship with God that they enjoyed.

In a time when the Church is challenged by a variety of factors that threaten our witness, I am grateful for those on the front lines of ministry who demonstrate God’s love daily in word and deed. Blessings!

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