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Consider the question "Is the Sabbath made for man or man for the Sabbath?" A rhetorical question, because Jesus said that it was the Sabbath that was made for man. But this is not a question directly about the Sabbath; that was just an analogy. Rather, here's a question on "Christian compassion".

Consider this logical exercise, with premises which might be wrong, but it's just a thought experiment:

  1. No sinner ever repents apart from knowing the love of God.

  2. The love of God is often conveyed, mostly, through the kindness of invidual human Christians. (2 Corinthians 5:20 speaks of this. God begs the sinner through Christians.)

  3. Since a sinner, most of the time, is living without the love of God, he or she understandably holds to a "non-Christian way of thinking".

  4. Non-Christian ways of thinking inevitably lead to non-Christian modes of behaviour or speech. This might involve the publishing of a book, such as those of the renowned biologist Richard Dawkins.

  5. These non-Christian modes of behaviour, such as the books published by Dawkins, inevitably offend many Christians.

  6. By (1) and (2), the only possibility, in this or a parallel universe for a sinner to repent, is that God begs the sinner to repent through a Christian person.

  7. From (5). But offended people don't beg those whom they feel offended them; rather they chastise them.

  8. Therefore, (6) and (7) lead to a contradiction.

  9. It's actually worse than (8), because usually the more in need of God's love the sinner is, the more likely he/she is to perform (5) in a more offensive way.

Question: How does one resolve this paradox?

Here's my take, but I'd like to hear other views: To me the late David Wilkerson epitomizes best what the solution to this paradox is. In "The Cross and The Switchblade", he wrote of his words to Nicky Cruz “You could kill me Nicky. You could cut me in a thousand pieces and lay them out on the street. But every piece would cry out, Jesus loves you. And..............you’ll never be able to run from that.” And the empirical evidence showed that David Wilkerson was right.

Are there other ways to resolve this paradox that don't involve such drastic exercises of compassion from Christians?

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2 Answers 2

The problem with the paradox, as I see it, is with one of your premises:

5) These non-Christian modes of behaviour, such as the books published by Dawkins, inevitably offend many Christians.

While Christians may be offended by Dawkins, they should not love him any less.

Clearly this is not always the reality. Many Christians do take offense at those who disagree with them, often violently, as seen throughout history. But to the extent that Christians respond out of hatred rather than out of love, they are not behaving as Christians ought.

Matthew 5:43-45, NIV (emphasis added):

43“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor[a] and hate your enemy.’44But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.

From this verse, we see that a Christian's response to one like Dawkins (who "persecutes" Christians--at least intellectually, I don't think he's ever physically persecuted them), is to pray for him.

A Christian who prays for Dawkins is not likely to have an ugly confrontation with him, should they ever meet. Instead, he will share God's love with him (your point #2), whether Dawkins ever accepts Christ or not.

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Thanks, that's a very nice answer! –  user1539 May 10 '12 at 2:15

Christians often say that we should "love the sinner but hate the sin", and refer to this as a paradox. This completely misses the point. Sin might seem fun or pleasant for a time, but in the long run it destroys. It destroys our relationships with other people, it robs us of dignity, and of course it separates us from God. It is like a disease.

My best friend in college died of a terrible, wasting disease. It sapped his strength and destroyed his ability to function. He spent his last few month in his death bed basically just waiting to die. Would you expect me to say, "This disease is a part of him. It fills his body. It dominates his life. Therefore if I love my friend, I should love this disease"? That would be absurd. It is equally absurd to say, "I love my friend, BUT I hate his disease." No, the rational thing to say is, "I love my friend, AND THEREFORE I hate this disease." I hated the disease to exactly the same extent that I loved my friend.

The disease my friend died of was AIDS. There was no mystery how he got it: he was a practicing homosexual. The Bible says that homosexuality is a sin. Even aside from the physical effects, I saw how it destroyed his life. He never knew what it meant to love and be loved by a woman. He never enjoyed sex as God intended it. It destroyed his relationship with other men. Would you expect me to say, "Homosexuality is a part of him. It was how he was born. It is his lifestyle. Therefore if I love my friend, I should love his homosexuality"? That would be absurd. It is equally absurd to say, "I love my friend, BUT I hate his sin." No, the rational thing to say is, "I love my friend, AND THEREFORE I hate his sin." I hated his sin to exactly the same extent that I loved my friend.

I don't know Richard Dawkins, so I can't love him in any but the most abstract sense. But if I did know him and love him as a friend, I would hate his atheism, not because it hurts me in any way, but because it hurts him.

Of course sin can and does hurt people other than the person doing it: there are often direct victims. Stealing destroys the soul of the thief, but of course it also deprives the person robbed of his physical wealth. Sometimes non-Christians do things to actively hurt Christians. I'm talking about real persecution, like imprisoning, torturing, and killing people, as goes on in many parts of the world. In such a case a Christian might hate his persecutor for the harm he has done him. In that case he hates the sin, not because he loves the sinner, but because he loves himself. If someone is tortured, I can't condemn him for hating his torturer. I certainly don't claim that I would not. But surely it is a great thing when someone can love his torturer, and care more about the soul of the torturer than about his own life. That is the example of Christ, and many Christians throughout history have managed to follow it.

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Thanks for your nice answer! –  user1539 May 13 '12 at 9:36
    
-1 for being a condescending jackass. –  TRiG May 29 '12 at 17:43

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