Does God Hate Sinners?

Pompeo Batoni, Sacred Heart of Jesus (1767)

Does God hate sinners? There’s a notorious Baptist group based out of Topeka, Kansas, that claims that He does: and specifically, that He hates homosexuals. They’re a radical fringe even amongst Baptist Calvinists, and other Calvinists have sought to distance themselves from them. But many of those doing the distancing don’t actually think that they’re wrong. For example, here’s GotQuestions’ objection: “While the Bible declares that God hates all workers of iniquity (Psalm 5:5), the Bible nowhere singles out homosexuals as objects of God’s hatred.” In other words, God hates homosexuals and all sinners! Matt Slick of CARM says the same:

The sobering fact is that God is so holy and righteous that He hates the sinner (Psalm 5:5; Lev. 20:23; Prov. 6:16-19; Hos. 9:15). Some say that we should say that God only hates the sin but loves the sinner. But, the above scriptures speak contrary to that. But it is also true that He is love (1 John 4:8). It is better to accept the love of God found in Jesus than to reject it and suffer His wrath.

This is nothing new. Calvinist predestination teaches that God created two groups of people: the elect, who He loves and guides to Heaven, and the reprobate, who He hates, and damns to hell. It is impossible to go from one group to the other: neither faith nor works play any role in your election (instead, they’re a result of your election). As a result, there’s no shortage of quotations from Calvin and his followers about how God hates sinners. These claims invariably rely upon appeals to a relatively small set of Biblical passages which, taken literally, seem to support their case.

So are these Calvinists reading the Bible correctly? Does God really hate sinners? No. To see why, let’s look at two things: I. the impossibility of God hating sinners; and II. what the Bible verses about “hate” are actually about.

I. The Impossibility of God Hating Sinners

A. Natural and Supernatural Love

Ancient Greek, the language of the New Testament, distinguished between four different loves (storge, philia, eros, and agape), which tend to get translated into English simply as “love.” C.S. Lewis wrote an entire book exploring the senses of each of these four loves. But here, we want to make a slightly different distinction — namely, between natural love and supernatural love.

First, Scripture speaks of the sort of natural love of which all of us (believers and nonbelievers alike) are capable. Such a love can be good or evil, depending upon its object. So, for example, “the love of money is the root of all evils”  (1 Timothy 6:10). This kind of love doesn’t require grace (otherwise, it would take grace to be able to sin through love of money).

But there’s another type of love, which is only possible by the power of the Holy Spirit. St. Paul speaks of it in 1 Corinthians. He begins in chapter 12 by discussing a wide variety of spiritual gifts: the gift of tongues, prophesy, miracles, etc. But then he says, “But earnestly desire the higher gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way” (1 Cor. 12:31). The next chapter is his exposition of the spiritual gift of love (if you’ve been to a wedding, chances are, you’ve heard it), and he concludes with this line: “So faith, hope, love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love” (1 Cor. 13:13). So love in this sense is not just a spiritual gift, but the greatest of the spiritual gifts: greater than the ability to work miracles or speak in tongues, greater even than the gift of faith. This kind of love is, by its very nature, holy.

B. The Universal Call to Love

In Matthew 22:37-40, after Jesus is asked, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?” He responds:

And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets.”

Here, Christ ties our love of neighbor in with our love of God. This is clearly a reference to supernatural charity, not just the fondness of ordinary human love. It isn’t enough for us to have natural love for God, and it isn’t enough for us to have natural love for our neighbor. We need the kind of love made possible only by the Holy Spirit.

This radical call to love extends to everyone, even our enemies. Jesus says as much in Matthew 5:43-48,

You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you salute only your brethren, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

So we’re called to love both our friends and our enemies. Interesting, the model that Christ holds up for this is the Father Himself, who makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” If Christ isn’t suggesting that the Father loves both the good and the evil, it’s hard to see why He would mention this. But we’ll leave that aside for now.

C. Calvinism’s Paradox

This leads us to a serious problem from the Calvinist perspective. In calling us to love everyone, Christ is calling us to love the evil as well as the good, to love even those who will ultimately be damned. He’s quite explicit about our need to love even the evil in Matthew 5, and in any case, it would be impossible for us to love only the ultimately-saved while hating everyone else, since God alone knows who will be saved and who will be damned. And yet, this holy love is possible only through the Holy Spirit.

By this logic, God hates Bob, but requires me to love Bob, and empowers me by the Holy Spirit to do so. But the Holy Spirit (who is God) doesn’t actually love Bob. What’s more, this love includes the Holy Spirit creating the desire in my heart for something contrary to the will of God: namely, Bob’s salvation. This result is logically impossible, because it results in an effect (my love for Bob) greater than the sum of the causes (the Holy Spirit’s love for Bob, manifested through grace). 

More than that, it’s theologically absurd:

  • If it is morally good to love Bob and desire his good, then you cannot hold that God Himself lacks this love of Bob and desire for his good without saying that God lacks a moral good. Worse, since I love Bob (somehow), you’re now saying that – in at least one regard – I am holier and more loving than God.
  • If it is not morally good to love Bob and desire his good, then Christ is commanding something that’s not morally good in Matthew 5.

None of this works. 1 John 4:8 says that “he who does not love does not know God; for God is love.” If I refuse to love my enemy, it means that I don’t know God. But by that same token, if Christ refused to love His enemies, it would mean that He didn’t know God. That’s not an acceptable position, and it’s a position contradicted by Scripture, which shows Him forgiving His enemies, and interceding for them (Luke 23:34). And since God is love, it’s impossible to imagine a situation in which we love someone (in the supernatural sense of love) more than God does.

So as you can see, this position that God hates sinners results in serious theological problems, which end up detracting from God’s holiness and His goodness in ways that no Christian can hold in good faith. The Calvinist position literally cannot be right, and it’s theologically necessary that God loves everyone, including His enemies. There’s no other way to rectify Jesus’ clear teachings.

II. The Simple Solution to the Scriptural Data

This still leaves us with a problem: what do we make of the various passages in which it seems to say that God hates sinners? For example, what should we make of Psalm 5:5, “The boastful may not stand before thy eyes; thou hatest all evildoers”?

There’s a straightforward solution to this: this “love” / “hate” language is a frequently-used Semitic expression to express favoring or preferring. In other words, it’s a figure of speech. We see this quite clearly in Luke 14:26, where Jesus says, “If any one comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.”

If you were to take that literally, in the way that Calvinists have taken verses like Psalm 5:5, you’d have to hold that husbands must hate their wives, instead of loving them. But Scripture clearly teaches the opposite (Ephesians 5:25-28):

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. Even so husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.

And you know who makes the point that this language shouldn’t be taken literally? John Calvin:

He does not indeed enjoin us to lay aside human affections, or forbid us to discharge the duties of relationship, but only desires that all the mutual love which exists among men should be so regulated as to assign the highest rank to piety. Let the husband then love his wife, the father his son, and, on the other hand, let the son love his father, provided that the reverence which is due to Christ be not overpowered by human affection.

In other words, Christ uses the language of love and hate, but what He really means is preference: to say that we love X and hate Y only means that we prefer X to Y. It doesn’t actually mean that we don’t love Y, or that we wish ill of Y.

This alone harmonizes Luke 14:26 and Ephesians 5:25-28. And this also harmonizes God’s love with the passages about Him “hating” sinners. These passages are saying only that God prefers the righteous to the unrighteous. That’s a message consistent with a loving God who desires the good of all of His creatures, particularly since the good of all of men is righteousness.

7 Comments

    1. In my opinion, it means that God ‘prefers’ that men use their divinely provided free will to follow a loving, merciful, eternally beneficient, all good Lord and Father, instead of ‘prefering’ their own souls, or Satan, or some vice, or some other mere creatures, or idols, to this good and most loving and merciful God.

      It means that God also ‘ prefers’ that the righteous persevere in this love and fidelity to God, and also that the ‘unrighteous’ look on the goodness of God and be sorrowful for prefering themselves, or others, to this same loving God and merciful Father. In this way, all men would use their free will as it was created for them to be to used, which is to adore the one true God and Father, in Our Lord Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, forever.

      It seems that the parable of the ‘unrighteous’ Prodigal Son, humbly returning to his ‘righteous’ Father and ‘semi-righteous’ brother, teaches us this very thing.

      Just my opinion.

  1. “Does God Hate Sinners?”

    Contrary to Calvin’s teachings, a good case can be made that “God Loves Sinners MORE than the Righteous”, at least in this world.

    In the parable description of the most loving father of the sinful (prodigal) son, referred to above, we read:

    “And rising up he came to his father. AND WHEN HE WAS A GREAT WAY OFF, his father saw him, and was moved with compassion, and running to him fell upon his neck, and kissed him.”

    What care for this wayward child! And for the ‘righteous’ son who always did what the father wanted?:

    “he answering, said to his father: Behold, for so many years do I serve thee, and I have never transgressed thy commandment, and yet thou hast never given me a kid to make merry with my friends: [30] But as soon as this thy son is come, who hath devoured his substance with harlots, thou hast killed for him the fatted calf.”

    So, Jesus teaches very contrary to Calvin in this parable.

    And Jesus also taught in another parable:

    “…And coming home, call together his friends and neighbours, saying to them: Rejoice with me, because I have found my sheep that was lost? I say to you, that even so there shall be joy in heaven upon one sinner that doth penance, more than upon ninety-nine just who need not penance. (Luke 15:6)

    And:

    “I say to you, there shall be joy before the angels of God upon one sinner doing penance.”

    So, where does Calvin derive all of this philosophy on the hatred of God for Sinners? It certainly doesn’t seem to be from the teachings, and parables, of Jesus Christ.

  2. Actually, I don’t think that love and hate are mutually exclusive. It seems that many times, those whom we love most are the ones we hate the most. Because it is they who hurt us the most.

    I am not, however, commenting on the OP. I’m commenting on the comments.

    1. Maybe believers in Christ are frustrated when those of his close relations want nothing of what they (we) believe and love. But the love of the Christian, I think, does not actually hate, but rather, is dismayed and confounded. Jesus also shed tears over Jerusalem. There are many mysteries in all of this and Jesus instructs us somewhat when He says:

      “And a man’ s enemies shall be they of his own household.” Matt.10:10

      I guess believers should be thankful that they aren’t being stoned to death by these same loved ones, as the Lord Himself barely escaped from in the hills of Nazareth. There are so many mysteries regarding love and hate, but I think alot has to do with the great gift of free will that God has given to us.

    2. I might amend what I wrote above by saying that in actuality Christians might indeed get extremely angry and may hate a person for one reason or other. However, such anger includes sin, as extreme hatred, or wrath, is included as one of the ‘seven deadly sins’. It may happen, but should be guarded against as a vice.

  3. Since there are no other comments on this very interesting post, I’d like to propose one last question for those who believe that “God hates Sinners” – as they live, and sin, in this world:

    Why is it that when Jesus was being crucified on the cross, did he not just come out with it, and say it bluntly, as the Calvinists insinuate He should have:.. ” I hate you all, all you who who have done this to me, you are all damned you great sinners, and I will never forget it! I hate all of you sinners, and all of the others also!”

    Why is this not part of the Gospel, if the Calvinist position is correct? Also, why is Jesus so merciful, and so ready to listen to others, as is found throughout the Gospel? And why did He go out and look carefully for the 1 out of 100 sheep that were “lost”? If that sheep was a hated sinner, why not just let him be eaten by the wolves, as a just reward, and forget about him?

    On the contrary, it is very clear that Jesus sacrificed Himself for sinners, and as they live in this world He cares for them, reaches out to them, and loves them. He does everything in His power to appeal to them to turn back to His Father, so that they might also with Him, enjoy the eternal paradise and ‘Feast of God’, found in the union with both Himself, the Eternal Father and the Holy Spirit, in Kingdom of Heaven: a feast of life that never ends.

    So why do the Calvinists get this beautiful Gospel message so wrong? Do they not understand what the “Cross of Christ”, and the ‘love of Christ’, actually means? Do they not understand that indeed it is ‘Good News’?

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