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  • Writer's pictureJim Donaher


Much is written, said, implied and believed about ‘sin.’

The sense one gets from all this is that there is a hierarchy of sins, some of which are ‘normal’ while others are ‘deviant.’ The underlying implied definitions are forgivable or unforgivable, respectively.

We engage in human judgement of sins to make ourselves feel better about our own ‘relatively minor’ transgressions, that are, after all, ‘normal.’ And in judging the sins, we judge the sinner just as harshly. Sometimes even more harshly.

Jesus was very clear, that we must love the sinner, just as He does. Hate the sin, but love the sinner. Why? Because every one of us is a sinner. Certainly, sins like murder are horrible, but we cannot console ourselves by saying ‘at least I’m not a murderer.’ This is analogous to the Pharisee in Luke 18:9-14, who proudly justified himself saying ‘‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector.”

Human judgement of the sins of others, while understandable, is not what we should be doing. Rather than brand people as ‘evil,’ and treating them that way, we must strive to understand them, to empathize, at some level, for what they are going through. And we are to remember that, whatever they have done, they were created by God, just like we are. He loves them, just as He loves us. And so, we too must love them.

For a long time, I was a staunch proponent of the death penalty. I could easily get behind the righteous killing of murderers, rapists, pedophiles and others, because they ‘deserved’ to die for their crimes, that were so ‘unforgivable.’ This punishment, somehow, helped some people feel better about themselves or their safety or justice. I was one of those people.

As I have lived 5 ½ decades, I have seen a lot of things. I was, I am, and I always will be a sinner. I know this. I am blessed that I have not committed crimes, but that doesn’t make me better (or worse) than someone who has. I am remorseful of my sins, but I still sin. And everyone else does too. No one is without sin, past, present or future. All we can do is the best we can, but none of us is perfect.

In John 8:1-11, Jesus tells the Pharisees, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Nobody threw a stone then, and we shouldn’t be throwing stones now.

What, then, is our role in all of this? What are we supposed to do, if not judge? We are to love. We can hate the sin, whatever it is, but we must love the sinner. At a bare minimum, it means we must be merciful, gracious and understanding of the fact that they are fighting a battle and they are struggling. We fight a battle too, and sometimes we struggle and fail.

This isn’t an easy thing. Human nature is defensive. It tells us we’re not like ‘them’ and that we are better. This frees us from responsibility and allows us to relax, knowing that we are ‘right.’ How can we love a serial murderer or rapist or pedophile? Or corrupt politician or unethical business person? Not easily. And especially not when they are not remorseful.

Separate the sin from the sinner. Realize that they entered the world just as you did, created by God with a purpose. For a myriad of reasons, they lost their way, and may have been given up on by everyone who was supposed to love and support them. That doesn't dismiss or excuse their sins. It simply recognizes the humanity of the sinner.

But God never gave up on them and He never will.

He calls on us to love one another. There are no limitations on that command.

God bless you.

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