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Rain on the just and unjust

The Sermon on the Mount is full of startling claims, many of which, for various reasons, we fail to appreciate.  One such statement is this: God “makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matthew 5:45 ESV). Jesus uses these words to show how much God loves His enemies, and it serves as a glorious example that Christians are called to emulate.

But we are thoroughly unimpressed with this example. The fact that God keeps sinners and unbelievers alive and gives them light and food seems more like fulfilling an obligation than grace. Many, implicitly or not, believe that God is required to give everyone x, y and z, and, if He doesn’t, He is either mean, uncaring or inept. And not only that, but if He doesn’t fulfill my wishes, if He doesn’t give me a promotion, a spouse, happiness or good grades, then, well, maybe I just won’t worship Him today. This verse, and the Bible as a whole, challenges such wrongheaded thinking.

Let us begin with this question: What does God owe humanity? Nothing. This is hard to accept, but that is what Matthew 5:45 is saying. But how can God withhold such essential things from people? The underlying assumption is that we’re generally good people, and thus deserve God’s gifts, but this is wrong.  There are no good people.  (While people, as in Matthew 5:45, are said to be good, this is through a righteousness by faith (Romans 4:5, Philippians 3:9) and not by works, for “no one living is righteous before” God on their own record (Psalm 143:2; cf. Psalm 130:3).)  “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one” (Romans 3:10-12). Or go back to the Sermon on the Mount, where to be angry with your brother is to commit murder and to have a lustful thought is to commit adultery (Matthew 5:21-30), sins punishable by death in the Old Testament (Leviticus 24:17, 20:10).  Indeed, even the tiniest sin is worthy of eternal damnation (Romans 6:23) since it is nothing less than, in the words of R.C. Sproul, an act of “cosmic treason” against the Almighty and most holy God. We so often think of sin as a negligible scratch or blemish. It is not. Even when we are deeply mournful over our sin, we are not even remotely close to fully grasping how repulsive, grievous, and perverse our sin really is. No, reader, you do not want God to give you what He owes you or what you deserve. All our works, even our best ones (Isaiah 64:6), make us deserving of Hell.

What remarkable grace it is, then, for God to allow sinners one day, even one more hour, on earth. Again, this is not only true for the worst sinners but all who are outside of Christ (Luke 13:5) and under the wrath of God (John 3:36). It is astonishing that God would allow those who have refused to repent and believe the gospel — who are more guilty than the people of Sodom (Matthew 11:24), who were destroyed by fire from Heaven (Genesis 19:24) —to enjoy abundance, comfort, laughter and the beauty of His creation, to have a family and caring friends, to sit in a warm home with a good book and to enjoy the benefits of modern technology and medicine. Such “common grace,” as it is called, is given to the unjust and evil.

While Matthew 5:45 focuses on God’s love to this group, Christians should rejoice in such things when they receive them, too.  Although they have been forgiven all their sins through Jesus’ blood (1 John 1:7), are saved from the wrath of God (Romans 5:9, 1 Thessalonians 1:10), and are freed from any condemnation (Romans 8:1), Christians are not guaranteed another day on earth nor any earthly comforts (cf. Matthew 16:24-25, Hebrews 11:36-38). Such common grace, which also includes such things as God’s restraint of evil (Romans 1:22-32, 2 Thessalonians 2:6-8), is most worthy of praise. When such blessings are taken away, we should thank God for having enjoyed them and not “charge God with wrong” (Job 1:22). Furthermore, the dismantling of societal morality, as we see today, allows us to see more clearly the depravity of man, just how much God has done in the past and our total reliance on Him. We will never fully grasp the blessings of common grace, but Christians often see it most clearly when it wanes.

Let me conclude with a note to non-Christians. You may be quite pleased with all the things God has given you, but remember that these good things you enjoy will mean nothing if you continue your present course (Luke 12:20-21, 16:25). “God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance” (Romans 2:4), and such blessings you have received serve as a “witness” (Acts 14:17) to God’s goodness. If you do not know repent and believe, you will despise all such graces you now enjoy, for you have sinned against greater mercy, and thus, by enjoying them yet refusing to give thanks to God by worshipping Him, you are incurring a greater and greater punishment. While God still grants you days and the offer of the gospel is still available, I plead with you to “flee from the wrath to come” (Matthew 3:7). Do not think you can hide behind a lack of knowledge, and do not think your works can save you. But do not fear to come to Christ, for He will “never cast out” any that “come to” Him (John 6:37) and can save by His “blood,” which “cleanses us of all sin” (1 John 1:7), even the greatest of sinners (1 Timothy 1:15). Go to Him even now; “now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation” (2 Corinthians 6:2).

Andrew Sveda is a senior at Notre Dame from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, majoring in political science and theology. In his free time, he enjoys writing (obviously), reading and playing the piano. He can be reached at asveda@nd.edu or @SvedaAndrew on Twitter.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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