God is good but not nice

September 21, 2011

The Angry Christ by Pontebon

“God is good all the time, and all the time God is good.” This has become a cliché in church. Pastors and worship leaders often say it in contemporary worship, for example, as a call to worship or a call and response. In Vinebranch, there’s a great song that we sing that includes these words.

And you know what? I totally believe it. God is good all the time, and all the time God is good.

I totally believe it… I just don’t say it very often. In part I don’t say it because, as I’ve indicated, it’s a cliché. Clichés aren’t, by definition, untrue. In this instance, I believe this cliché is certainly true. But as with any cliché, it’s so shopworn it no longer communicates its truth effectively. So I try to find other words to communicate the same thing.

But there’s another reason I don’t say it: because the truth expressed in these words must be qualified for most audiences. To say that “God is good all the time” is not to say that God is nice all the time. And I don’t think most of us know the difference most of the time.

Nice is no virtue.  I don’t want God to be nice, I want God to be good—even if and when God’s goodness hurts me. If God’s goodness hurts me, this doesn’t imply that the feeling of pain is necessarily good—although it may be if, for example, it motivates me to repent. But it does imply that God isn’t going to let my pain stand in the way of God’s goodness. If God were merely nice, that wouldn’t be the case.

I thought of this as I’ve been reading and studying Jesus’ parables in Matthew 13 for our new Vinebranch sermon series. Where is this nice Jesus we hear so much about in pop culture? The Jesus I find here—take the Parable of the Weeds, for instance—talks a great deal about wrath, judgment, and punishment. If I feel resistance to these harsh words about “weeping and gnashing of teeth,” is it because I really want God to be nice?

Too bad. We have a good God instead.

One Response to “God is good but not nice”

  1. Tom Harkins Says:

    What an excellent point! I totally agree. I also concur that most Christians do not really see God as one causing “weeping and gnashing,” despite the clear scriptures, because they want to see God as “nice,” which is unfortunately supported by a lot of “pop” theology. God is holy, righteous, jealous, etc. “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”


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