“The wrongs a man does to others correspond to the bad qualities that he himself possesses. “ – Aristotle
It is sometimes said, “Hate the sin, love the sinner.” I agree, but I want to expand on what this should mean. We tend to think of hate or love in very emotional terms. This is natural, but it should not be the emphasis. We’re not called to love the sinner in the sense that our hearts just overflow with deep affection for who they are. After all, suppose someone has a character such that they tend to be very irritable and self-centered. Are we supposed to “love” this sinner while hating the concept of irritability and self-centeredness? It seems impossible to separate the sin from the person.
This is because as Aristotle would say, how a man acts reveal his character. Or as Jesus said, “For out of the heart come evil thoughts” (Matthew 15:19). In other words, evil thoughts come from an evil heart. If the heart defines a person, how could we possibly not hate the sinner in the process of hating the sin? We know the heart defines a person because we love people for their characters. Try to imagine your best friend having every character trait removed from him. All you have is an empty shell, a blob of nothing. Is your best friend a blob of nothing? Of course not. So we cannot possibly detach our affections from the person’s character.
What The Bible Says
Surprisingly, the Psalmist goes on to talk about the wicked in this way: “Lord, don’t I hate those who hate You and detest those who rebel against You? I hate them with extreme hatred…” (Psalms 139:21-22). We may dismiss this as David being fleshly, but even God hates the wicked: “You hate all evildoers“ (Psalms 5:5). Notice that the Bible does not merely say that God hates sin, which is taught, but also that God hates the evildoer. Some may say that this is God’s right because He alone is an accurate judge, but that’s flawed because it would mean we cannot have a judicial system. And it is clear that we can accurately hate Hitler because we know he was an evil man.
On the other hand, the Bible also says that we are to love our enemies so how are we supposed to reconcile this? It’s actually not so difficult once you define your terms and make two very important distinctions. Love and hate normally refer to emotional responses, but it is not always an emotional response but a response of the will. In other words, you can love somebody by willing their good (e.g, feeding them food) even if you feel nothing for them. Lastly, we must remember that a person’s character is distinct from their human nature. All men share one human nature, but all men differ in character.
Love + Hate
Putting this all together, it is possible to love and hate someone simultaneously but in different senses. We can love someone with respect to their human natures by willing (not emotionally) what is good for them, but then we can hate someone with respect to their characters by being intellectually and/or emotionally repulsed by it. To put it in another way, insofar as a person shares in the image of God we would wish for them to have good characters, but we would hate the wicked character that they currently are.
To some, this may sound like a rationalization. In fact, it may even sound downright wrong to say that we can hate people. To such people, I say this: if you are not outraged by men who rape and murder underage girls then something is seriously wrong with you. Now I’m not suggesting we can go on a hating spree. As Aristotle would say, hatred should be directed at the right person, at the right amount, at the right time, for the right reason, and in the right way. Or to quote Ephesians 4:26, “Be angry and do not sin.” Some Christians today think any emotion involving anger must be bad. That is ridiculous and unbiblical.
To conclude, Aquinas says it best:
“It is our duty to hate, in the sinner, his being a sinner, and to love in him, his being a man capable of bliss. And this is to love him truly, out of charity, for God’s sake.” (Summa Theologica, II-II, 25, 6)