Is it Biblical to say that God loves everyone unconditionally?

(Helen Tan) #1

I’ve often used this statement – God hates the sin but loves the sinner - to speak of God’s love for everyone until recently when I was questioned as to the meaning and validity of it: What exactly does sin mean in this context and is it possible to separate the sin from the sinner when the Bible tells us that we have inherited our sin nature from Adam?

Ecclesiastes 9:3: This is an evil in all that is done under the sun: that one thing happens to all. Truly the hearts of the sons of men are full of evil; madness is in their hearts while they live, and after that they go to the dead.

Matthew: 15:18: But those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart; and they defile the man.

Jeremiah 17:9: The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?

Romans 7:18: For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find.

Very often too, this statement is used in dialogue with the LGBT community which have seen this as baffling as they see being same-sex attracted as who they are and not what they do.

Is there a need to re-phrase the statement? How should we define sin in this context – our nature or our action? Can we separate sin from the sinner?

I would appreciate help in unpacking this. Thank you.

(SeanO) #2

@Helen_Tan I am also curious to hear what others have to say on this question. This statement is used very often and I wonder what peoples’ perspectives are on it.

I think in its modern usage to ‘hate’ something or someone is to want that person or thing to ‘go to hell’. So I think in its modern usage the phrase just means God wants sin to ‘go to hell’ but He does not want people to ‘go to hell’. Rather, God wants to redeem them. That may be all that is meant by it in its modern usage? But I think this definition of hate is modern and that the word love is tricky when used in a modern context.

If we break it down the statement has two fundamental clauses with God as the actor and a third clause that is assumed:

  1. hates the sin
  2. loves the sinner
  3. the sinner is not the same thing as the sin - they are in some way separable

So to understand this statement we must unpack each clause and focus especially on the definition of ‘hate’ and ‘love’.

1 - God hates the sin

If by ‘hate’ we mean God wishes it to cease to exist and to destroy it - I think you established this point well and I would only add that God hates sin because it is dehumanizing and harmful. Murder, theft, envy and lying are socially destructive. In Romans 1 God lays out the fact that it is a rejection of Himself that leads to a corrupted heart that participates in these destructive acts.

But in the Bible ‘hate’ can simply mean that God does not place His favor on someone - for example, when it says that God ‘hated’ Esau or that we should ‘hate’ our father and mother in order to serve Him. In this sense of the word, ‘hate’ simply means to place favor upon or put someone or something before someone else.

2 - God loves the sinner

In the Scriptures, I believe God’s love for the sinner means that God desires that those who are enslaved to their sinful nature and living in darkness would come into the Light.

But in our modern culture ‘love’ means ‘allows to do as they please without consequences as long as they do not hurt anyone’. That is obviously not what the Bible means by love. God has mercy on those who are evil - allowing them to live upon the earth - and He desires they turn to Him, but there are still consequences for choosing evil. That is Biblical love. The Parable of the Prodigal Son would seem a good example.

Matthew 5:45 - “that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”

Ezekiel 18:32 - “For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign LORD. Repent and live!”

1 Timothy 2:3-4 - " This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth."

Revelation 22:17 - “The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let the one who hears say, “Come!” Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life.”

3 - Sin and the Sinner are Separable

As James 3:9 makes clear, all men are created in God’s image. So even though we have a sinful nature (as Romans 7 points out) that holds us captive to sin until Christ sets us free, we are still fundamentally creatures made in God’s image, though ruined.

James 3:9 - With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness.

But at the same time it is clear that if a person chooses sin over God, then God gives them over to that sin.

James 4:6 - But he gives us even more grace to stand against such evil desires. As the Scriptures say, “God opposes the proud but favors the humble.”

Romans 1:24 - “Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts”

Sinners are people who have chosen to reject God in their hearts and God has therefore set Himself against unless they humble themselves through repentance. God loves them in that He desires that they repent and sent His Son that they might know Him, but He sets Himself against those who choose the love of the world rather than the love of God.

All of that said - I think the danger is really in the definition of the words ‘hate’ and ‘love’. If those definitions are Biblical, I think the statement is safe.

What are your thoughts? What is another statement we could use to say the same thing but with thoroughly Biblical words that cannot be misconstrued in our modern culture? Is there a better way of saying the same thing???

(Helen Tan) #3

Thanks, @SeanO, for your well-considered reply. I think there are a few areas which this discussion can open up to. But, first, I would like to say that the statement in question is one which I like as it’s inclusive and concise. That is why I was surprised when challenged and felt that it is worth examining, if not to correct it, then to ensure that I follow that up with a clear line of thought to bring my listener/questioner, particularly an unbeliever, to the right conclusions.

You mentioned that it’s important to define ‘love’ and ‘hate’. As you said, the fact that God hates sin is clear and indisputable. However, there was a point in my discussion where the question of whether God hates anyone was raised. In this regard, references were made to the following verses:

Psalm 11:5: The Lord tests the righteous, but his soul hates the wicked and the one who loves violence.

Psalm 5:5-6: 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.

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.

Proverbs 6:16-19: There are six things which the Lord hates, yes, seven which are an abomination to Him: Haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, A heart that devises wicked plans, feet that run rapidly to evil, A false witness who utters lies, and one who spreads strife among brothers.

According to Strong’s, the word ‘hate’ in these verses is שָׂנֵא ( sane )- a primitive root; to hate (personally):—enemy, foe, (be) hate(-ful, -r), odious, utterly. It follows that the person who sins is offensive to God. Based on this, the question was asked as to whether it is more accurate to say that God both hates and loves the sinner.

Appreciate more thoughts on this.

(SeanO) #4

@Helen_Tan Still processing the idea that God both loves and hates.

Love and hate are actually antonyms - so it’s difficult to imagine combining them in this fashion.

The only literary reference I know of where those two words are used together like that in juxtaposition is when Gandalf describes Gollum’s relationship with the one ring in the Lord of the Rings - Gandalf says about Gollum, “He hates and loves the Ring, as he hates and loves himself. He will never be rid of his need for it.”

Obviously Gollum had multiple personalities - so that would not be an accurate description of God who is the same yesterday, to day and forever.

In English, ‘hate’ carries the idea of loathing something and is very often associated with a desire for revenge - if someone hates someone they want to see that person suffer. But God does not ‘want’ to see the wicked suffer - He wants all people everywhere to repent and find life.

So how can we capture God’s opposition to those who are evil and destructive while at the same time expressing His desire for them to turn to Him and find life?

Definitely curious to hear more thoughts.

Here is my initial stab at phrasing this in English in a way that avoids ascribing incorrect desires to God:

People who choose to chase after selfish gain and fleshly desires are God’s enemies and He opposes them utterly, but He never enjoys it when He has to execute justice on them - He wishes they would turn from their wicked ways and live.

A bit lengthy. Any feedback???

(Helen Tan) #5

Hi @SeanO, I very much appreciate your engaging in this discussion. I guess it was never going to be easy trying to condense what 66 books in the Bible are telling us into one pithy statement and that’s why we’re struggling. :thinking::sweat_smile:

In distinguishing ‘sin’ from the ‘sinner’, are we essentially trying to address the question of whether God loves everyone? We are certain that God loves His children but how does He view the sinner who has not repented and received His gift of salvation? We often say that God’s love is unconditional to everyone. Is that accurate? Here’s a short video (with transcript) of R.C. Sproul’s answer to that question to start things off:

Sproul points to 3 types of divine love:

  1. The love of benevolence “where God has a kind spirit to the whole world” and His benevolent will and love fall on everybody.
  2. God’s beneficence – how God displays that goodness universally. The rain falls upon the just and the unjust.
  3. God’s love of complacency – this is the special love that God has for His Son and those who have been adopted into His Family through His Son. When we talk about this love universally, Sproul says it’s blasphemy because God does not love the whole world with the love of complacency. That’s why we find, for example, Scriptures that talk about how God hates those who are swift to shed bled. This love is not unconditional because He requires all men to repent and come to Christ.

Does this help us move forward or have we now to consider another cliché used so often – that God loves everyone unconditionally? :scream:

I think too that when we use the statement that God loves the sinner, we, as Christians, comprehend to a greater depth of what underlies it and what its ramifications are. On the other hand, oftentimes when it is used as a response (in my circle), it’s because an unbeliever is questioning the exclusivity of Christianity. So we say that to show that our faith is inclusive. While it sounds good, does it satisfy the listener/questioner? Do they understand or, better still, acknowledge their sin, and their position as sinner sufficiently to appreciate what is being conveyed? Does it diminish the intensity that’s inherent in the love and the wrath of God?

As always, I would appreciate more thoughts.

(SeanO) #6

@Helen_Tan Did Sproul actually use the word ‘blasphemy’? Those are certainly strong words.

Since you said that people often use unconditional love as a response to exclusivity, what do you think of using Romans 2 as a response to the challenge of exclusivity instead?

Paul essentially says that on the day Christ’s judges the world those without the law (and presumably who have not heard of Christ) will be judged by the secret thoughts and intents of their hearts. What is unfair about that?

Romans 2:12-16 - All who sin apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who sin under the law will be judged by the law. 13 For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous. 14 (Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law. 15 They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them.) 16 This will take place on the day when God judges people’s secrets through Jesus Christ, as my gospel declares.

(Helen Tan) #7

Hi @SeanO, I agree that Sproul certainly used strong language in that context.

I think that Romans 2 does answer to the accusation of exclusivity. The Bible is clear that the invitation is to all. Perhaps the statement in question could be amended to say that God hates sin but extends an open invitation to the sinner to His love, or something to that effect.

I guess in thinking through all this, what comes to mind is that very often I have adopted lovely sounding clichés which simply do not do justice to the message of the Gospel. And in the context of the two sayings highlighted, they just don’t quite project the extent of God’s love in the context of His holiness and wrath towards sin.

You mentioned in an earlier post that it’s mind boggling to think of God loving and hating at the same time. D.A. Carson, in his book, “The difficult doctrine of the love of God”, addresses this:

"Nevertheless the cliché (God hates the sin but loves the sinner) is false on the face of it and should be abandoned. Fourteen times in the first fifty psalms alone, we are told that God hates the sinner, his wrath is on the liar, and so forth. In the Bible, the wrath of God rests both on the sin (Rom. 1:18ff.) and on the sinner (John 3:36).

Our problem, in part, is that in human experience wrath and love normally abide in mutually exclusive compartments. Love drives wrath out, or wrath drives love out. We come closest to bringing them together, perhaps, in our responses to a wayward act by one of our children, but normally we do not think that a wrathful person is loving. But this is not the way it is with God. God’s wrath is not an implacable, blind rage. However emotional it may be, it is an entirely reasonable and willed response to offenses against his holiness. But his love, as we saw in the last chapter, wells up amidst his perfections and is not generated by the loveliness of the loved. Thus there is nothing intrinsically impossible about wrath and love being directed toward the same individual or people at the same time. God in his perfections must be wrathful against his rebel image-bearers, for they have offended him; God in his perfections must be loving toward his rebel image-bearers, for he is that kind of God.

“The reality is that the Old Testament displays the grace and love of God in experience and types, and these realities become all the clearer in the new covenant writings. Similarly, the Old Testament displays the righteous wrath of God in experience and types, and these realities become all the clearer in the new covenant writings. In other words, both God’s love and God’s wrath are ratcheted up in the move from the old covenant to the new, from the Old Testament to the New. These themes barrel along through redemptive history, unresolved, until they come to a resounding climax—in the cross.

Do you wish to see God’s love? Look at the cross. Do you wish to see God’s wrath? Look at the cross.”

More thoughts on this?

(Adam Taylor) #8

I’ve enjoyed following this conversation! I remember in university the first time someone suggested to me that the sin and sinner are inseparable, and our class held a similar conversation to what I’ve read here. I think Romans 5:8-10 show that God has love for sinners, and the primary way that love is shown is through Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. Once justification has taken place and the relationship established, the full expression of God’s love can be experienced and appreciated, but before justification the aim of God’s love is always to point sinners to Christ. However if the sinner rejects Christ’s offer to let Him cover their sin there is no other way to seperate the sin from the sinner. The aim of salvation is to separate the sinner from their sin, but if the offer is rejected, then the sinner and the sin have to be punished together and the distinction seems to disappear. I hope this is on target! I’m trying to think this through in my own mind as I type!

(SeanO) #9

@adam I think it is a very good point that the purpose of salvation is to put to death the sinful nature that the Spirit of Christ may bring to life our mortal bodies. Sin has a corrupting influence on the individual - body and soul - and without being cleansed by Christ what is corruptible will perish. I will continue to mull this over - good thoughts!

(Helen Tan) #10

Hi @adam. I agree with Sean that you’ve made a good point that the separation between sin and the sinner comes with salvation. The invitation is unconditional but God’s love and offer salvation need to be received.