THE DIFFICULT DOCTRINE OF THE LOVE OF GOD by D.A. Carson
One evangelical cliché has it that God hates the sin but loves the sinner. There is a small element of truth in these words: God has nothing but hate for the sin, but it would be wrong to conclude that God has nothing but hate for the sinner. A difference must be maintained between God’s view of sin and his view of the sinner. Nevertheless the cliché (God hates the sin but loves the sinner) is false on the face of it and should be abandoned. Fourteen times in the first fifty psalms alone, we are told that God hates the sinner, his wrath is on the liar, and so forth. In the Bible, the wrath of God rests both on the sin (Rom. 1:18ff.) and on the sinner (John 3:36).
Our problem, in part, is that in human experience wrath and love normally abide in mutually exclusive compartments. Love drives wrath out, or wrath drives love out. We come closest to bringing them together, perhaps, in our responses to a wayward act by one of our children, but normally we do not think that a wrathful person is loving.
But this is not the way it is with God. God’s wrath is not an implacable, blind rage. However emotional it may be, it is an entirely reasonable and willed response to offenses against his holiness. But his love, as we saw in the last chapter, wells up amidst his perfections and is not generated by the loveliness of the loved. Thus there is nothing intrinsically impossible about wrath and love being directed toward the same individual or people at the same time. God in his perfections must be wrathful against his rebel image-bearers, for they have offended him; God in his perfections must be loving toward his rebel image-bearers, for he is that kind of God.
Love – D.A. Carson Pages 646–50 in New Dictionary of Biblical Theology.
The thesis that God hates sin but loves sinners
There is a small element of truth in this thesis. God always hates sin; he is invariably and implacably opposed to it. And it is true that God loves sinners: God “demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8; cf. John 3:16). Nevertheless the thesis, with its simplistic antithesis between the personal sinner and sin in the abstract, is mistaken. The same apostle who declares that God’s wrath is revealed from heaven against “all the godlessness and wickedness of men” (Rom. 1:18) also speaks of God’s wrath against individuals (2:5); indeed we are all “by nature children of wrath” (NRSV). The first fifty Psalms repeatedly describe the kinds of people on whom God’s wrath rests, not just the kinds of sin. Indeed, the language can move from God’s wrath to God’s hate and abhorrence: “The arrogant cannot stand in your presence; you hate all who do wrong. You destroy those who tell lies; bloodthirsty and deceitful men the Lord abhors” (Ps. 5:5–6, NIV).
None of this means that God’s wrath is arbitrary or whimsical. In Scripture, God’s wrath, however affective, is the willed and righteous response of his holiness to sin. God’s holiness, like God’s love, is intrinsic to the very being of God; his wrath is not. To put the point another way: God has always been holy, as he has always been love; he has not always been wrathful. But where his holiness confronts the rebellion of his creatures, he must be wrathful (and the entire sweep of the Bible’s storyline insists he is), or his holiness is anaemic. Yet for all that he is no less the God of love.