7 When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”
Recently, I read a blog post titled, “Why I Stopped Saying ‘Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin’ in which the writer points out how this commonly used phrase entirely misses the mark of what Jesus instructed us to do. It seems that the phrase is most often used in times when a Christian is attempting to defend their demonstration of ‘love’, which is usually in the form of rebuking sin.
The frequency and vigor with which this phrase is touted among Christians would lead many to believe that it is a command from the Bible; however it is NOT. Upon doing a quick google search I learned that this phrase is derived from a letter by St. Augustine, an early Christian theologian and philosopher, who wrote: “cum dilectione hominum et odio vitiorum,” which translates roughly to “with love for mankind and hatred of sins.” It is said that St. Augustine is referring to hating his own sins; however, the line has become infamous as a way to point fingers at others.
In his 1929 autobiography, Gandhi writes, “Hate the sin and not the sinner is a precept which though easy enough to understand is rarely practiced, and that is why the poison of hatred spreads in the world.” In other words, Gandhi states that it is virtually impossible in practice to love someone but hate their sin without (intentionally or unintentionally) spreading hate in the world. Perhaps the proliferation of this phrase is why Gandhi famously said, “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”
Upon reading this blog post, I wondered why it is so difficult to "love the sinner". Was this not what Jesus intended for us to do? The answer, as I came to understand is 'No'. Jesus didn't say love the sinner. Nor did he instruct us to make rebuking sin our responsibility. Rather be instructs us to love our neighbor. There is a crucial difference between the person who views others as sinners and the person who views others as their neighbor and I believe it is this person who is truly able to understand God's mercy and grace and accept Jesus as their personal savior.
The cold hard truth, as the teachers of the law and the Pharisees were forced to concede, is that we are all sinful. No one is without sin and everyone needs God's grace and mercy. We recite this from memory and perhaps accept it in theory, but not entirely in practice. In my own life, I find myself trying to defend my errs (usually to my parents) by claiming that I am not inherently bad. The reality is that we spend a lot of time and energy building up our reputation as good, capable people in order to prove our worth in this world. Our actions and words prove that we a're quite simply uncomfortable with the fact that we are inherently fallen and in need of Grace.
There is a popular show on Netflix that revolves around an upper middle class woman who is serving a 15 month sentence at a federal prison for a crime she had committed 10 years back. The main character is not the typical inmate, but she must come to terms with the fact that she is a prisoner and accept responsibility for her crime. However, her loved ones refuse to accept that she is a criminal. In fact, during their visits, her friends and family regularly attempt to provide comfort stating that she is not one of ‘them’ (referring to the other inmates) and that she doesn’t belong there (in prison) and will get back to being her actual self (in the real world). On the other hand, the character is slowly but surely coming to terms with the fact that she is not as good of a person as she (or her family) thought she was. She is a prisoner to her sinful human nature. We all are. And that is why we do not have the right to call people “sinners”. If we want to hate sin, it must be our own sin. It is then that we truly can accept and appreciate grace and demonstrate love.