Hate the Sin, Not the Sinner – Wait! Is That Even Possible

I was reading through the C.S. Lewis Bible and wanted to discuss as section his commentary on here. It originally comes from Mere Christianity, in the Bible it is connected to Matthew 18:21-35, which states:

21Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” 22Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven. 23Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. 24When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. 25And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. 26So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ 27And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. 28But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’ 29So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ 30He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt. 31When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place. 32Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ 34And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. 35So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”

It is definitely a powerful parable and passage but I love what Lewis adds to it. He begins by saying:

It is made perfectly clear that if we do not forgive we shall not be forgiven. There are no two ways about it. What are we to do?

It is going to be hard enough, anyway, but I think there are two things we can do to make it easier. When you start mathematics you do not begin with the calculus; begin with simple addition. In the same way, if we really want (but all depends on really wanting) to learn how to forgive, perhaps we had better start with something easier than the Gestapo. One might start with forgiving one’s husband or wife, or parents or children, or the nearest N.C.O., for something they have done or said in the last week. That will probably keep us busy for the moment.

I am going to try to break down what Lewis says because I know there are some out there who have a hard time understanding him. Don’t worry I have trouble to at times. He takes time to understand. I also want to expand on it a little bit.

He is giving great advice here. What he is trying to say is that when you are struggling with forgiving don’t try starting with forgiving the HUGE things. If you have a hard time forgiving a person who back-talked, how are you going to be able to forgive the person who abused you. This can be applied to any struggle. If you are struggling with self-control, you need to first work on self-control in the small areas of life. For instance, try fasting. You may not deal with self-control in the area of food but it will help build you strength in self-control all around. It won’t be extremely easy but it will be a lot easier and possible than starting off with the huge items at the beginning.

And secondly, we might try to understand exactly what loving your neighbor as yourself means. I have to love him as I love myself. Well, how exactly do I love myself?

Now that I come to think of it, I have not exactly got a feeling of fondness or affection for myself, and I do not even always enjoy my own society.

If you do have an affection for yourself, let me just tell you something. YOU NEED TO WORK ON BEING HUMBLE (like all of us). I just wanted to through that in there. He continues…

So apparently “Love your neighbor” does not mean “feel fond of him” or “find him attractive.” I ought to have seen that before, because of course, you cannot feel fond of a person by trying. Do I think well of myself, think myself nice chap? Well, I am afraid I sometimes do (and those are, no doubt, my worst moments) but that is not why I love myself. In fact it is the other way round: my self-love makes me think myself nice, but thinking myself nice is not why I love myself. So loving my enemies does not apparently mean thinking them nice either. This is an enormous relief.

When you forgive someone or love your neighbor, it does not mean you become best friends with them or anything. This is not what Jesus meant. I love all the people in my church and bible study but I am not best friends with all of them. If that was what Christ meant, then the Church is too big.

For a good many people imagine that forgiving your enemies means making out that they are really not such bad fellows after all, when it is quite plain that they are. Go a step further. In my most clear-sightened moments no only do I not think myself a nice man, but I know that I am a very nasty one. I can look at some of the things I have done with horror and loathing. So apparently I am allowed to loathe and hate some of the things my enemies do. Now that I come to think of it, I remember Christian teachers telling me long ago that I must hate a bad man’s actions, but not hate the bad man: or, as they would say, hate the sin, but not the sinner.

I know that a lot of people hate the saying “hate the sin, but not the sinner,” yet you have to admit it sums up how we are to treat everyone both nonChristians and Christians. Non-Christians don’t understand it a lot of the time. For example, the gay community thinks it is BS and says, “I am gay so if you hate homosexuality, then you hate me.” They do not understand it. To love a person as ourselves means to see that they have souls. When you talk to someone (especially when you know they are not a Christian), do you think about how they have a soul and where they are going to go when they die.

Kirk Cameron, the actor, told a convicting story one time. A friend of his called him on the phone and said (something like this, maybe not these exact words), “I thought we were friends!” Kirk was confused and said, “Of course we are.” His friend replied, “No. I just found out about the gospel and became a Christian. You never talked to me about Christ or the gospel. You were going to let me go to hell!” Trying to show people the truth of Christ through both words and actions, shows that we love them as we should.

For those of you who think the saying “hate the sin, but not the sinner” is crap, Lewis goes on.

For a long time I used to think this a silly, straw-splitting distinction: how could you hate what a man did and not hate the man? But years late it occurred to me that there was one man to whom I had been doing it all my life – namely myself. However much I might dislike my own cowardice or conceit or greed, I went on loving myself. There had never been the slightest difficulty about it. In fact the very reason why I hated the things was that I loved the man. (emphasis added) Just because I loved myself, I was sorry to find that I was the sort of man who did those things. Consequently, Christianity does not want us to reduce by one atom the hatred we feel for cruelty and treachery. We ought to hate them. No one word of what we have said about them needs to be unsaid. But it does want use to hate them in the same way in which we hate things in ourselves: being sorry that the man should have done such things, and hoping, if it is anyway possible, that somehow, sometime, somewhere he can be cured and made human again.

I love the sentence in there “In fact the very reason why I hated the things was that I loved the man.” I cannot express how much I wish I could get people in the gay community to understand this about the way I care for the community. We as Christians need to hate sin first of all because it takes glory from God but secondly because we care about the people and see how it destroys their lives. When I met a friend of mine, they had a drinking problem which they did not even know about. They thought they were a casual drinker who just had to be picked up every weekend almost. While I have always hated drunkenness because it attempts to diminish God’s glory, I began to hate my friend’s drinking problem more and more as I grew closer to them. I could see how it was affecting them physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Thankfully, they have since became a Christian and are dealing with the problem. They now understand why I hated the problem so much. It was because I came to love them so much.


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