G. K. Chesterton on Loving the Sinner and Hating the Sin

As a Christian, I have often heard that we should “love the sinner and hate the sin,” and I believe it. But it’s not as easy as it sounds. If we are not careful, we will love some sinners more than others and hate some sins more than others, and a lot will depend on our own perception of the seriousness of the sin and the contributions of the sinner.

“Love the sinner and hate the sin” really means this: love all sinners and hate all sins, without partiality and without prejudice. This is the way of life that Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount. When this teaching is followed, it is revolutionary. But if you choose for yourself what sins to hate and what sinners to love, then, as Jesus said, “What are you doing more than others.”

In Orthodoxy, G. K. Chesterton explained that this teaching was one of the things that drew him to Christianity. He didn’t use the phrase, “love the sinner and hate the sin.” He did, however, describe the same principle, calling it the “Christian paradox of parallel passions.”

“A sensible pagan would say that there were some people one could forgive, and some one couldn’t: a slave who stole wine could be laughed at; a slave who betrayed his benefactor could be killed, and cursed even after he was killed. In so far as the act was pardonable, the man was pardonable. That again is rational, and even refreshing; but it is a dilution. It leaves no place for a pure horror of injustice, such as that which is a great beauty in the innocent. And it leaves no place for a mere tenderness for men as men, such as is the whole fascination of the charitable. Christianity came in here as before. It came in startlingly with a sword, and clove one thing from another. It divided the crime from the criminal. The criminal we must forgive unto seventy times seven. The crime we must not forgive at all. It was not enough that slaves who stole wine inspired partly anger and partly kindness. We must be much more angry with theft than before, and yet much kinder to thieves than before. There was room for wrath and love to run wild. And the more I considered Christianity, the more I found that while it had established a rule and order, the chief aim of that order was to give room for good things to run wild.”