Loving the Sinner

“How can we love the sinner, but hate the sin?”

“God does.”

That answer did not explain anything. The woman asking the question needed practical advice. The phrase “God does” did not tell her how God does. More importantly, it did not tell her how she could. She needed a road map.

Christianity is often thought of as faith alone. Yet, faith alone cannot tell us how to love someone the world considers unlovable. It is not enough to know we need to love the sinner. We need to know how.

Prayer is not only a valuable asset in our quest for the ability to love others. It is a necessity. We need to realize we cannot do this on our own. The only way we can possibly manage to love the unlovable is to allow God to love them through us. We need to become God’s vessel.

One of the hardest things to do is accept that the sinner is not the sin. Sin is a choice. Sin does not have feelings, cannot make a choice, and has no chance of salvation. The sinner can do all this.

We will never be able to love the sinner but hate the sin until this distinction is clear in our minds. This is not easy to do. The sin and sinner become so intertwined in our minds that we may not be able to see the sinner apart from the sin. The distinction is still there. We just have to find it.

One such time occurred for me when I was in college. Milton (not his real name) decided I should be his. I had other ideas.

Like so many people today, Milton did not know how to take “no” for an answer. He thought if he hung around long enough, I would give in. He would make such a pest of himself that I would have to say “yes”.

Milton justified his actions by claiming that women went to college “to get their M.R.S. degree.” He also made such statements as “God has no use for women” and “a woman’s place is in the kitchen and the bedroom.” In his mind, women were on this earth for the sole purpose of pleasing men. We should not have opinions of our own. Only men are allowed opinions.

This was an example of misstating what the Bible truly says. Women were put on this earth as a “helper”[1] for men, not as their slave. Each has his or her own special purpose. This attitude does not glorify God.

It could be easy to be deceived by someone like this. They know all the right things to say. They know just what to quote (or misquote) in the Bible. But if we continue to go to God in prayer, we will not be deceived. We will know God has a purpose for us, because we will know God. Of course, we will not completely know God. We cannot hope to do that while on earth, but we can know Him as well as anyone else. It doesn’t matter whether we are male or female.

Anyway, at first all Milton did was make those incessant phone calls. If you did not answer, he would let the phone keep ringing until you did. If you hung up, he would call right back. He would talk for hours at a time. God bless whoever invented call blocking. I wish it had been available then.

Things slowly escalated. Milton got hold of my class schedule, and would be waiting to walk with me whenever I got out of class. He would sometimes walk with his face inches in front of mine, staring. If I turned, he turned. The only way not to see his face was to close my eyes. I was not about to do that. There was no telling what Milton would do.

One thing to remember is that when something like this happens we need to pray, but we need to act as well. We need to be responsible for our own well-being. God wants to help us, but He does not expect us to roll over and play dead. Prayer is only a part of the whole. It is never the whole.

At some point, Milton started waiting in the lobby for me to come down in the mornings. I got around that one by using the stairs. They did not come out in the lobby. I would walk up and down them. I got to be in good shape. I lived on the seventh floor.

I would sometimes duck into the restroom just to get away from him. I went to the restroom a lot during this time. When I came out Milton would be leaning against the wall, waiting. I began to wonder if this guy ever went to his own classes. One of my friends knew I was trying to avoid him, and a couple of times she diverted his attention long enough for me to slip away.

I walked into the Baptist Student Union one day, and the secretary congratulated me. I had no idea what she was talking about, so I asked her. She told me Milton had told her we were secretly married. I told her it must be a secret. I didn’t even know about it. Then I told her to consider us secretly divorced.

I was talking to one of my male friends later, and found out why I could not get any dates. Milton had warned them off. He told them I belonged to him, and to keep their hands off. None of them was willing to take someone else’s girlfriend, so I couldn’t get any dates.

The only way I managed to maintain my sanity during this time was to take it to God daily. I had to keep turning the situation over to Him and trust He would take care of me. During the entire time I was being stalked, Milton never tried anything. I believe it was because God wouldn’t let him.

As hard as the situation was, it would have been a lot harder if I had not had the Lord to turn to. People without Him have to rely on the law and others for help. At the time this happened, there were no anti-stalking laws. Victims were often told the stalker wasn’t dangerous, just a nuisance. Without God, I would have been totally alone.

One thing this also shows is that just because someone claims to be a Christian doesn’t mean they can be trusted. We are not to listen to what everyone else tells us God says. We need to talk to Him ourselves. We also need to study His word to make sure what we think we are hearing is from God, and not something Satan is trying to pass off as the being from Him. The Bible tells us Satan will try to deceive even those who belong to God if that were possible.[2] In order to make sure it is not, we have to have a relationship with God, so that we can recognize His voice.

The emotional trauma of being stalked for about two years kept me from being able to separate the sinner from the sin. Every time I thought of Milton, I remembered the sin. Every time someone refused to take “no” for an answer, I thought of Milton. They were so intertwined in my mind, that I wasn’t sure if I would ever be able to separate them.

For nearly fifteen years I wasn’t. The memory interfered with every other relationship I had. It affected every part of my life. I knew I had never forgiven Milton. I couldn’t. I didn’t know how.

I had been praying to God during this time, but I had never asked Him to help me forgive Milton. In some ways, I thought what had happened was my fault. I hadn’t handled the situation properly. Maybe I deserved it. Milton wasn’t sorry for what he had done, so why should I forgive him?

Forgiveness isn’t for those who sin against us. It is for us. If we do not forgive, we allow whatever it is to control us, in some ways. Yet, forgiveness isn’t a choice. It is a commandment. We are to ask God to forgive us as we forgive others.[3] They don’t have to deserve it. We didn’t, and yet God has forgiven us. (If we have answered His call and become Christians.)

Forgiveness isn’t something we can do on our own. We have to ask God for His help. We do this through prayer. Sometimes our prayers feel hollow, but we have to continue praying. God will point out why, in His time. Often the question is, “But are you really willing to forgive, or just going through the motions?” Sometimes, we don’t want to let go of what is holding us back. We just tell God we do because it is expected of us. We are not sincere.

When something has hurt us deeply, we cannot expect to get rid of those feelings overnight. Even though we forgive, the pain is still there. We may still be afraid. That is not always bad. It teaches us to take care. Yet, that fear cannot rule our lives. We have to ask God to help us with that as well. There may be a feeling of guilt. We may not want to forgive ourselves. We have to give ourselves over to Him, a layer at a time. We have to spend time with Him in prayer.


[1] Genesis 2:20

[2] Matthew 24:24

[3] Matthew 6:12; Luke 11:4

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