Disapproval of a choice vs. a person

How do you help a nonbeliever differentiate between a christian’s disapproval of their choices and a christian’s love for them? Why does it seem so difficult for this generation of unbelievers to see the difference?

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Hi Amal,

I believe the root of this may dwell in the “love=acceptance” or “love=affirmation” distortions. That might be a whole different thread of discussion…
We as Christians believe all people are equal in value, but not all actions are. I think actually most people believe this. A good indication of this is our legal system. Because all people are of equal value (they have the right to be safe from violence, for example), some actions are unacceptable (for example assault or murder).
You could ask who ever you’re engaged in dialogue with if they disprove of a hypothetical murderer as a person, or whether they just disprove of murder as an action. This might help them not only see the point but also challenge their assumptions, if they’re operating on some.
The danger in this, though, I believe, is to parallel it with the whole “God hates the sin, loves the sinner” thing.
I hope you are helped by the Lord in this. My wife and I are dealing with the same thing with some of our unbelieving friends and family.

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Thanks, Jeremy. I guess when looking at the legal system, it is easy to see the same law applies to both the rich and the poor, the uneducated and the elite. Practically speaking, though, the rich tend to get off more easily than the poor; there’s corruption in the system (and we are still better off than most, if not all, judicial systems in the world). So although on paper we give equal value to all human beings, regardless of status, in reality we often do not.

Thanks for the hypothetical scenario. I’ll have to try that one next time. But you mentioned that it’s a danger to parallel it with the whole “God hates the sin, loves the sinner.” Can you expound on this?
Thanks for taking the time to reply @countryinked.

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First, I think it is important to help your friend recognize first that is more an emotional issue than an intellectual or logical one. I think we can readily recognize that, while choices or behaviors may be indicative of the heart of a person, they do not represent the sum total of the person. We may label one who lies as a liar, but can still rightfully apply a myriad of other “labels” such as neighbor, friend, father/mother, husband/wife, and fellow human being. To provide a simple, real life example, parents can certainly disapprove of their children’s actions or behaviors without losing their love for them.

That being said, I can sympathize with your friend. I think it is very difficult to accept emotionally, at least if the choice is intertwined with “who they are” as a person. Perhaps help her recognize that the potential for wickedness is not only present in all mankind, but also manifest in every man’s actions, thoughts, and words. We all are sinners. If one could not separate a choice from the person, we would pretty much be stuck disapproving not only of all mankind, but also ourselves.

With that in mind, I assume the issue may really be about choice that one is unwilling to repent of. In such a case, I think two things must be kept in mind. First, while there is still life in the person, there is also a chance for repentance. Second, the one disapproving of the choice should mingle condemnation with humility. If there is genuinely room for disagreeing about the morality of the choice, both sides have to recognize that their judgment may be wrong.

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I hear you, concerning the hypothetical institution and the imperfect reality of it. But that still plays into the whole point, doesn’t it?
Let’s continue with your example of the rich person circumventing the law through bribery or some other corruption. The truth of the matter is this: no amount of riches or threats will steer a real honest person or a real lover of justice away from that end. It’s not so much the rich person’s motives that are questionable as those of the one accepting the bribe. One is merely seeking to avoid punishment (which desire I think we all at least sometimes have, to varying degrees); the other is seeking to undermine a pillar of society, placing themselves above all things. One is trying to evade truth, the other is trying to destroy it.
But the fact that human societies in any part of the world, at any time, have laws which govern (or attempt to govern) human behavior is an affirmation that some human behavior (choices) are approved and some are disapproved.
So if the people we are talking to agree that even one law is good, at any time, in any place, then they must consider the possibility that regardless of what they claim (i.e. what they’re saying) they may not be living and operating by a different standard than we as Christians.
Hm… I must apologize, I feel as though I can’t quite bring home the point I’m trying to make… but maybe I’ve stumbled along enough to illustrate what I’m trying to show:
that deep down I wonder if they do understand our position of loving a person but disapproving of their choices, because I believe they do the same, and it’s expressed by the fact that they condone or approve of any sort of civil law, even if it’s only in theory.

Concerning the “God loves the sinner, hates the sin” expression: in my experience have found this to be a mostly unhelpful phrase when discussing spiritual matters, especially when trying to share the gospel. Without recounting verbatim the examples in conversations I’ve had, it has ended up being an almost uncloseable escape hatch used to avoid the need of a Savior — it can be a doorway for self-pity and universalism; or it has somewhat derailed the conversation into what are mostly straw man or red herring arguments. That’s just my personal experience.
But I also don’t believe it’s the accurate or complete biblical stance. God hates sin, and He hates sinners. But he loves sinners enough to die for them. It’s one of those both/and things that an either/or guy like myself has a hard time with, haha. To hold God’s hatred of sinners and His love for them in tension, like so many other things concerning Him or His Word, is a strain on the human mind.

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That mingling of condemnation with humility is something I am continually learning. God knows none of us have any claim to anything - it is all by grace, and when the eternal destiny of those we love lies in the balance, it is time to put away our need to win an argument or to look good. I find any argument gets shot down with the subjective feeling that a behavior is okay as long as it does not bring harm to anyone. That seems to be the standard. They also bring up the idea that if someone is successful or happy in this world that that is an indication all is well and that is more attractive than Christianity. We know God rains on the just and the unjust, and he makes his sun shine on both the evil and the good, but those we love cannot “see” that’s where it comes from. The choice to abandon God and His laws for the universe seems to them a freedom from condemnation and a freedom to live a carefree life. God’s love to them means he must accept everything they do. The question becomes, “why doesn’t God want me to be happy?” “Why would God make people if He won’t let them do what they want to do?” And that reasoning turns into distorted thinking about God’s character (and then of course applies to God’s ambassadors on earth as well). I don’t know how much of this is part of postmodern thinking. I am not well versed in any of it and cannot believe how confusing it is. It is like hanging on nothing.

Thanks Kelly for responding to my question. I am growing in my understanding (though slowly). I’ve always enjoyed a good argument, but now I have a different reason to argue, and I’m realizing how little I know. Since my faith had settled years ago and the days of my questionings over, I became complacent about learning what is really out there. Now I am trying to catch up.

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Jeremy, you gave me much to ponder, and you definitely have nothing to apologize for; I think I get what you’re saying. That the one who evades the truth is not as guilty as the one who destroys it is a great point. I suppose we see that daily.

Concerning “God hates sin, and He hates sinners. But he loves sinners enough to die for them,” is that a reference to Esau? I cannot think of a verse other than that one or the one in Proverbs 6 “These six things the Lord hates,Yes, seven are an abomination to Him: A proud look, A lying tongue, Hands that shed innocent blood, A heart that devises wicked plans, Feet that are swift in running to evil, A false witness who speaks lies, And one who sows discord among brethren.” I suppose two of these refer to the person rather than the deed (I never thought of that before). I think of disgust with regards to Laodicea (I will spit you out), anger with respect to Solomon, but this is a new thought to me. I have to think it through. The “I hated Esau” I’ve always thought was spoken centuries later and had more to do with Esau’s disregard for God and his deeds. Feel free to correct me, please.

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I guess my views on “God hates sin and the sinner” are founded mostly on verses like Psalm 5:4-6: “For you are not a God who delights in wickedness; evil may not dwell with you. The boastful shall not stand before your eyes; you hate all evildoers. You destroy those who speak lies; the LORD abhors the bloodthirsty and deceitful man.”
And Psalm 11:5: “The LORD tests the righteous, but his soul hates the wicked and the one who loves violence.”
And Hosea 9:15: “Every evil of theirs is in Gilgal; there I began to hate them. Because of the wickedness of their deeds I will drive them out of my house. I will love them no more; all their princes are rebels.”
(All emphases mine)
There are many other places in scripture, but I apologize, I can’t remember them now, off the top of my head.
Also, I believe this goes along with the whole gospel message. Who and what we are needs to change (we must be born again, a new person), not simply our evil choices. Jesus specifically calls us (not merely our actions) evil. If it were only our actions, and not our beings who were evil (and the LORD hates evil), wouldn’t the Law (which focused on our actions, but showed the evil of our beings) have been enough?
Jesus paid the penalty for sins not by merely cancelling out our records, but by taking our place.
So it seems that even though God hated us he still loved us, and died for His enemies. This makes His love even more immeasurable.
I don’t know, what do you think?

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Yeah, now that you mention these verses @countryinked, I’m wondering why I didn’t think of them? :grin: I don’t think I ever meditated on that thought. You just gave me something else to ponder. I’ve always believed that hatred is not the opposite of love; indifference is. The Lord wanted the Laodicean church to be either hot or cold. Otherwise he would vomit them. Thanks for the further explanation!

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Now this is interesting, and I am the one who needs to spend some time thinking…
It brings to mind verses in which we are commanded to love the Lord and hate evil, or love goodness and hate evil… two sides of the same coin?..
A while back I began experimentally thinking that the opposite of evil is not good; rather the opposite of evil is the fear of the Lord, as it says in Proverbs: “By the fear of the LORD one turns away from evil…”.
But I don’t know that I’ve ever explicitly considered what you wrote.
Thank you!

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I love that! As for hate vs love, I think if someone we love hurts us deeply, that love can go back and forth into hate. Once indifference sets in, though, that relationship is over.

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Hi Amal @ALandis, I think what helps is to first focus on God’s love so the nonbeliever truly understand what God’s love is. When we talk to unbeliever, we may talk about Love but the definition of “love” may mean different things for the two of you. They need to realize that it is unconditional and that they cant change his love, no matter what they choose to do. It also helps to understand what it actually took to get them saved. How much he loves them. That Christ came down from heaven as human 2000 years ago and was spited on, hated, tortured, and killed by us on the cross. Even then he was saying “Please forgive them for they not know what they are doing.”

Once they understand that, I think they will start to lower their guards. They will start to ask questions like “If he loved me that much why doesn’t he let me do this.” You can simply ask them “Would you let your 3 year child play near a cliff, even if they cried, rolled on the floor saying please please but why not mommy or daddy?” They will most likely say “no I wouldn’t.” Why? because I love them so much and dont want them to die. So then that can open up a door for discussion on the reasons behind the rules of God. Everyone hates a rule enforcer or “party-pooper.” We have to help them see that God is not just trying to make them a miserable obedient servants to some arbitrary rules he made. Instead he made the rules to keep us safe. Once they know that they will start to see him in a different light. I also usually use the analogy of teenagers fighting their parent over rules. We are all teenagers that grow up to appreciate our parents. They will appreciate it too one day.

Key thing though, before we talk about their life choices, we really need to not only say we love them, we need to show them as Christ did.

I hope that helps.
God Bless you.

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I just want to jump in real quick with a link to a short podcast I found about the phrase “God loves the sinner but hates the sin”. I have never heard this disputed before and as usual my mind is being challenged and stretched with new concepts. I found this message helpful with this question. :blush:

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Dan, thanks so much for your thoughtful response. For sure you and I see God’s love in sending His son to die for our sins, and we are grateful when He steers us away from destruction. We understand His omnipotence and omniscience. If I were to play the other side, though, I might answer, “why does He need to die? If He was going to send his creation to hell for doing what he doesn’t like, then He should’ve never created them. And if He doesn’t want me to go over a cliff, then why create a cliff? This isn’t love. This is tyranny.” How would you answer that? I’ve often thought of the verse in Malachi, “I have loved you, says the Lord, yet you say, in what way have you loved us?” I look forward to hearing you thoughts on this @Danageze.

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Thank you, Carrie. I am listening to this podcast as I write this.

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You’ve raised an interesting question, but I don’t think it is unique to Christians. I can think of examples where disapproval of someone’s actions could be similar whether coming from a Christian, Buddhist, or Muslim. For example, it’s probably safe to say that most people would express disapproval of the choice to use illegal substances. An Atheist may not be able to point to a moral reason for not using illegal substances, but they could still express disapproval of the choice, and urge the person stop using them for the sake of “society as a whole”.

So, it my not be your Christianity that’s the issue. Understanding I know very little about this situation, I can see a few factors that could cause pushback to your expressed disapproval:

  1. This person can’t or won’t accept criticism, and cannot differentiate that from personal rejection.
  2. This person’s world view conflict with yours, so they see no reason to accept corrections that comes from your world view.
  3. This person believes “love” = “be nice”
  4. This person simply does not trust you.

To expand a bit on each…
#1: How does this person reacts to expressed disapproval from others? Understanding this can give you insight into this persons emotional maturity for accepting correction in general. This can help you change tactics if your current approach isn’t being received.

#2 If you two have radically different world views, appeals coming from your world view (e.g. sighting scripture, when scripture doesn’t have any moral weight to them) may not influence them in the way you may expect. Again, you may need to change your tactics to meet the person “where they are”. No need to change the Biblical truths, but prayerful discernment about what’s needed to get through will help.

#3 I bet you’d agree that the word “love” has lost a lot of its meaning in today’s culture (e.g. “I loved that movie!”, “I’d love to go to that restaurant.”, “He loves to go hiking.”, or the McDonalds tagline “I’m love’n it!”). C.S. Lewis shows there are 4 words for love in the Bible, all with deep meaning. All four are in play at different times. Biblical love is dynamic, and much (much) more than just being nice. Biblical love does not always appear “nice” and can be confrontational, assertive, bold, and sacrificial, just to name a few. Rarely do we see all of these modeled in mainstream media or movies, so I’d dare to say they are mostly unfamiliar to us all.

#4 This factor is by no means meant as a putdown toward you, but is getting at the point of our ability to influence others. Of course the Holy Spirit works on our behalf, and the Lord gets through to people despite our interpersonal shortcomings. However, a two-way foundation of (at least) trust and acceptance in relationships goes a long way too! Without that foundation, our words and actions, no matter how well intentioned, can easily be ignored or misinterpreted. We have very little ability to influence others without establishing acceptance and trust in our relationships.

An often quoted verse is Proverbs 27:17

“As iron sharpens iron,
so one person sharpens another.”

True, for sure. But, this requires that both persons see it as good to have another “sharpen” them. It also implies each person gives the other permission to do so. Otherwise you are just grinding “iron on iron”. Perhaps your friend doesn’t see it this way too?

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Thanks, Mike, for this helpful summary. I love the points you made, and I especially see how the second factor applies. Like you said, when scripture does not have any moral weight to those we are trying to reach, we have to change our tactics and meet them where they are. This is part of the reason I joined this group and am trying to learn from others. I wonder how much of the sad departure from God’s word that we see around us is due to the self-sufficient and independent spirit of our day.

True love is definitely not some nice feeling; otherwise it wouldn’t last long. It is loving someone enough to continually intercede on their behalf and never give up. Learning how to be assertive and bold when that’s called for is hard work. As for number four, that of course makes sense. I often pray when I feel in my spirit that I am not influential in someone’s life that God would send the right person of influence. It’s not about winning or getting credit for anything. It is enough to be loved by the Lord; He himself is our exceeding great reward. My prayer for loved ones and others is that God would send someone into their life who loves the Lord and who loves them. In the meantime I want to be of use in whichever way I can and, at the least, not to be a stumbling block!

In my reply to Dan, I said something about an individual, who when spoken to about God’s love at the cross, did not see that as love. Do you have a response to that? Thanks again, and the Lord bless!

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Hey Amal @ALandis, great questions. I will answer them one by one.

Why does he need to die? Well God has to be fair and deliver justice to all the people that pray everyday for all the hurt and suffering this world brings them: rape, murder, injustice, cheating, hate, idolatry etc. God weeps by the evil that we humans create every single day. He cant just dismiss and forgive sins. That would be so unfair. There is a great video actually by RZIM. They answer various questions on the video below but the part for this starts at 1:35:26

Now the second part where you say why did he create us just to send us to hell if we disobeyed. Now I remember hearing from Ravi too I think but it also relates to the idea of Molinism. But the general idea is God has 4 choices.

Case #1 is where God does not create a world
Case #2 creates a world that has no good or evil in it
Case #3 creates a world with only good, but no evil. We are robots and we follow God 100% no free choice.
Case #4 creates this world where we have a choice to choose him or not.

This is the only world where love is possible. Because by definition love requires a free will and a choice. So it is inevitable that some will not choose God by their free choice.

Also it is key that we understand what Hell is. Hell is not where God sends us. Hell is an absence of God. All the benefits of good comes from God. If we choose not to be with God, he loves us so much that he will not force us to be with him in eternity.

The next question people ask is why would God create us knowing that we would not choose him since he is all knowing. The answer to that is #1 God being a “psychic” aka knowing the future does not mean he makes choices for us (usually people assume that). #2 is that it is likely that God has thought about all the possible ways to create a world and this world happen to be where he can get the maximum number of people that by their free choice choose him and go to heaven. That’s the idea of Molinism.

I hope that helps.
Keep up with spreading the good news of Lord, Jesus Christ. :ok_hand:
God Bless.

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Thank you so much, Dan. This is very helpful material. I appreciate you taking the time to put it together. I will listen to the video hopefully next week. The Lord bless all your labor.

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Anytime Amal @ALandis. Whatever it takes to even save one soul. The heavens will rejoice!

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