Amos 5: Hate the Sin
If you are in almost any evangelical church, I’m sure that you have heard the phrase “Hate the sin, but love the sinner.” I know that this phrase has come under scrutiny, but it came up today in Amos 5, so I thought I would explain a little bit more about it and try to clear up some of the misconceptions that surround it.
First of all, let’s start with Amos. For a little bit of context, this is God speaking to the people of Israel, and they are far away from Him. Particularly, they are oppressing the poor, and God is giving them instructions on how they can begin to return to Him.
Amo 5:14 Seek good, and not evil, that ye may live: and so the LORD, the God of hosts, shall be with you, as ye have spoken.
Amo 5:15 Hate the evil, and love the good, and establish judgment in the gate: it may be that the LORD God of hosts will be gracious unto the remnant of Joseph.
Now, I did a little bit of background research into the original language here thanks to Strong’s Numbers, and the evil that is being referred to is a noun in and of itself. It is not an adjective in this context. Therefore, we hate evil as an entity. It is as if this is evil attached to a person for example. Evil is presented here as its own entity. It is not a command to hate all evil people; that would be a contradiction with all of the other Biblical passages that refer to loving other people. We hate evil itself.
At least for me, and I don’t claim to speak for everyone else here who might espouse this position, I love people because they are created in the image of God. We all have this intrinsic value that is the result of our special creation. As a result, I don’t have any problem loving people.
However, it does not mean that I approve of everything people do. I obviously think that there are good and bad choices regarding how we live our lives, and I think that the absolute best way to live that life is to follow the word of God. No one, except for Jesus Christ, can perfectly follow the word of God as shown by the remainder of human history. We all make choices that therefore hold us back from doing what is the absolute best and in fact perfect.
What then is my response to something that makes our relationship with God imperfect? How should I respond to that intrusion that we bring upon ourselves? Should I be happy that there are things that hold us back from having a right relationship with God? Should I settle for less than the absolute best?
That is how I can separate these two things out. When you are pursuing the good and trying to follow God, it is natural to not want anything to get in the way of that progress. Sin by its very nature does just that, so I feel like it makes sense that we ought to hate sin. It seems to be the natural response if it is impeding what ought to be the most important relationship in our lives
PS: I write this with full knowledge that I am just as guilty as anybody else. I don’t mean to write this to point fingers at people any more than I point them at myself. I honestly hate my own sin more than anybody else’s.