Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Hate the Sinner

Yesterday, I talked about telling our stories with grace so that others can see simply people in our stories. Broken people, including us. (Instead of what we may have once seen in someone. We cannot tell another man's story.) In churches, we like to mask this with holy language: Hate the sin, love the sinner.

It's a nice saying, but somehow when we tell our stories, we most often tell them in ways to get people to hate the sinner. Perhaps because we are busy hating him or her in our own heart.

And we do, don't we? At least for awhile, we hate the sinner. We blame this person for bringing brokenness into our lives, and that's as far as we look into the situation. There are a few easy ways to figure out whether you're hating the sin or hating the sinner.

Do you ascribe motive or inner dialogue to the sinner? When we tell our stories and realize we're starting to say what the other person was thinking or why they were doing what they were doing, we're hating the sinner. We're ascribing their actions to the intentions of their heart, and we're making a judgment. Generally, we're hoping those listening will share our judgment.

Do you focus more on the broken relationship than on the brokenness? This one's a tricky trap, too. We'll practically obsess over whatever "Bill" did to us, to the extent that now we're just talking about "Bill" and our former relationship and our damaged trust. We can't believe "Bill" - of all people! - would do such a thing. We're hating the sinner.

Do you say any hard thing about yourself? How often when we tell our stories do we own our hearts? How often do we admit our brokenness? Not very often. When we hate the sinner, we're more likely to talk about them than the damage to us. We start to think the whole problem is them. They caused this. They meant this. They intended for this to happen. And they have to fix this.

Do you see yourself in any of these traps? There are dozens, if not hundreds, more, but these are the three that came into my head. It's too easy to hate the sinner. We do it without even realizing that's what we're doing. And sometimes, we'll even add onto the end, "Oh, but I love them. Hate the sin, love the sinner, you know..." Our actions, our words, speak otherwise.

Then how do you love the sinner? Another three points.

Realize that every man is broken. It's not maliciousness in a man's heart (most of the time); It's brokenness. It's a chain of events that's left him scrambling to put his life together in some sort of way. It's his wound that festers and oozes out on you. I've written about this before, particularly in the context of Jeremiah 29 (Pray for Babylon). When you understand that the other person is driven by brokenness, it's not about them any more. You dislike what they've done, but you understand it wasn't because they wanted to do it. It's how they're living. It's how they're coping. And you know how that is. You're living and coping, too. Mutual brokenness draws you together. You love the sinner.

Realize that it's only because of the relationship that the act matters. This is a big one. If some perfect stranger on the street calls you Snotface, it doesn't sting as much as when your best friend (ex-best friend, if she's just called you Snotface) says it. Realize that if a lover breaks your heart, it's because your heart was there to begin with. This is even true in the case of random violent crime. It hurts because the perpetrator doesn't know you. This simple realization - that relationship matters - puts your focus back on the two of you and takes it off the act committed. It's more important that that's your brother in there than whatever he might have done to you. It's more important that that's your sister than whatever she might have done. All of a sudden, you're not looking at the act; you're looking at the person. And you realize you love the sinner.

Realize that you're broken, too. I cannot stress this one enough. I've had several instances, even here lately, where persons have said something or done something that aggravates me. Deeply. Or hurts me. Deeply. Some words just sting. I have walked away hating, not wanting to see some of those persons again. I have walked away questioning the relationship. I have walked away thinking I will never again walk toward. Without exception, however, as I later reflect on whatever words or actions those might have been, I discover that they hurt because they hit a raw place in my heart. I hated them because I already had that vulnerability, and they just touched it. I'm not mad at them; I'm mad at my own broken place. Knowing this, I take their words with greater grace, just as they meant them and not as I heard them. Because I am a broken woman and some things are always going to hurt. And I value those relationships too much to let my wounds interfere. I love the sinner.

Here's the thing - we all have sinners in our stories, not the least of which is ourselves. And it's easy to talk about the sinners; it's easy to hate them. But I've come to a place in my life where I don't have room for hate. It takes too much out of the world. It takes too much out of me. I authentically love every individual in my story. That's the truth. I don't like all the details, but I love the people.

They're broken. I'm broken. But there's something there worth saving, and that is love. 

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