Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Love The Sinner But Hate The Sin?

The total transformation that occurs within a chrysalis has always amazed me. A caterpillar ties itself up with a little silk, then its whole internal structure is reworked into something totally new. After a period of weeks or months the new butterfly is revealed, yet it is formed from just the same stuff as the old caterpillar - everything is reused except for a little silk and the outer skin. There's a wonderful description of the process, by Dr Lincoln Brower, here.

Comparisons between the caterpillar/butterfly metamorphosis and resurrection have been made before, of course, but these usually involve the thoroughly unbiblical image of some sort of immaterial butterfly casting off the shackles of material existence to fly free into heaven. It's a pretty image, and I can see why those who just want to escape from the world might like it. The God of the Bible, though, isn't interested in helping us escape from the world, he wants to renew the world, and us as well.

Jesus was the first true resurrection and he is the model for how it works. After he had been raised his tomb was empty and he was recognisably and physically human ... although changed in some odd way, maybe best described as more than human, but never less.

So for us the biggest, most important transformation to look forward to at resurrection is not the change to our bodies, but the change to our hearts and minds. That is where we will soar like a butterfly, rather than an earthbound caterpillar - doubtless the new improved body promised will be great (especially for those of us who are middle-aged or more), but renewal starts with the heart.

So why the post title: 'Love the sinner but hate the sin?' - what does that well-known phrase have to do with butterflies?

Over on Jared Byas' blog, he recently wrote a post with this same title (apart from the '?') which got me thinking and commenting to the extent that it became clear I really ought to do my own blog post. The heart of his argument is that the separation between sin and sinner is spurious, and a denial of the embracing power of God's love:
If we don’t accept that deep down we are still sinners and that sin is a part of our identity and yet Jesus still loves us, then we will keep naively and unintentionally hurting a lot people. By definition, sinners have sin as a part of who they are. So if you use this cliché, what you really mean is that I will love this part of your life but I will hate that part of your life. Or should I say, that’s often what people hear you saying. And you wonder why people find Christians judgemental and not very Christ-like? ... We are all sinners. We are all sin. We are all loved. All of us.
Jesus once said that the things we do and say come out of our hearts, from who we are. So separating 'sin' from 'sinner' is indeed spurious. So how can God love us (and our neighbours)? Does God love sin?

I think a good part of the answer to this lies in the transforming power of the Resurrection. Some churches and churchgoers talk in terms of judgement: God destroying anything that is tainted by evil. Yet resurrection promises transformation: God changing evil to good. It is like the chrysalis: all of the caterpillar is used in making the butterfly, nothing is rejected. So it is that God can see the potential for goodness and beauty in all that we are, even the parts that seem dark and ugly, and so He loves us - all that we are - and sends Jesus to save us, so that we may be made beautifully new.

No comments:

Post a comment