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I have never liked the phrase very much. For starters, Jesus never said it ... despite the fact that Christians fling it around as though he did. Not only did he never say it, but he never even came close. When I mention this to folks, it is not unusual for them to bring up the example of the woman caught in adultery whom Jesus told to "go and sin no more." It is true ... he did tell her that, but he told her that at the END of their exchange... after he had sent those who wanted to stone her away ... and after he told her that he didn't condemn her. NOTE: the affirmation of his love for her and the fact that he did not condemn her was not a result of anything she did. He did not say, go and sin no more and then you will be worthy of my love and forgiveness. He simply said, "Neither do I condemn you." Yes, some folks will argue, but then he said to go and sin no more. But, it seems to me that if the transformative love that Jesus extended to the woman was conditional upon whether or not she did or didn't sin any more, we would probably have a second part of the story, but we don't. We don't know what happened next. All we know is that he told her that she wasn't condemned ... despite the fact that she was an adulterer. Much like the prodigal son who was welcomed and embraced by the father even before he could offer up his well-rehearsed apology, the woman has an encounter with a Love that does not seek to condemn.
The second reason that I don't like the phrase about loving the sinner and hating the sin all that much is that I've experienced that kind of love and somehow it has never felt like the love I've experienced when I know that someone really loves me. Instead it feels like a patronizing kind of love that says, "I'm loving you because I'm supposed to, but really there is something about you that is totally unacceptable." And, the bottom line is that it certainly doesn't feel like the all-embracing, totally unconditional love that I experience in my relationship with the Almighty. Why would we even need to say, "I'm loving you, but hating your sin" in order to love someone else. Can't we just love people ... without regard to their (or our own) sin? It seems like we could sure be a lot more loving that way. And, it was what Jesus commanded us to do: "Love one another."
I have a friend who is fond of saying that the one who loves the most wins. The concept isn't original with him, he got it from another friend, but ever since he shared the idea with me, I've been trying to see how true it is. I've actually tried to take this command to "love others" to heart. Now, of course, the reason should be simply that Jesus commanded it, and that is why I think it is important. But, I have to confess that I'm also curious to see what it would look like. What would my life look like if I simply loved ... without regard to who the other person was ... without regard to behavior or status or disposition ... without regard to political, theological, or philosophical underpinnings ... but, just loved because that's what I'm created to do?
I fail at this goal about nine hundred and seventy nine times a day, but my attempts have revealed something that I think is very telling. In those moments when I am successful ... when I simply love ... I don't have either the time or the inclination to worry about hating anything. It is a win-win equation because the other person feels loved and in the act of loving, I too know myself as one who is loved by the Beloved.
It's weird, because it's all a little bit more hippie-esque than I normally tend to be ... but, it is a good kind of weird. So, I've decided to just mentally edit the phrase when it's quoted to me and now every time someone tells me that I should love the sinner, but hate the sin, I simply hear: "Love."