“But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.”
Jesus’ original audience had an understanding of God’s blessing that was very similar to the eastern concept of karma: if you are a good person, God will bless you; if you are a bad person, God will curse you. If you have lots of children, you are blessed by God. If you are healthy, blessed by God. If the rain falls on your field and your crops are abundant, the blessing of God. If your army wins a battle, the blessing of God.
Then Jesus comes along and says,”No, that is not the way God is.” When Jesus says that God “sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous,” he is refuting the old, traditional understandings of God. Jesus is telling His listeners that the blessing of God is not dependent on their behavior. The favor of the Lord is not for some, while excluding others. Jesus is telling His hearers that they should love their enemies so that they will be like God who gives blessings to those who love him and to those who don’t.
This was a radical perspective to Jesus’ hearers. The karma God was comfortable. He was just. This God who loves both friends and enemies is not comfortable. It is not easy to accept that God is good to everyone; even the people who we hate. It seems that many of Jesus’ teachings were attempting to eliminate the retributive conception of God and replace it with a God who “keeps no record of wrong.”(1 Corinthians 13)
Today we are much more comfortable with the karma God as well. We like to imagine that if things are going well for us–we find five dollars on the street, we get a front parking space at Wal-Mart, the cashier charges us too little money–then we are experiencing God’s favor. We also imagine that bad things–hurricanes, earthquakes, an over-drafted checking account– are the judgement of God.
Is a hurricane the judgement of God for people’s sin? Ancient Hebrew people would have said “yes.” Many of today say “yes.” But Jesus says, “No. That is not the way God is. The rain falls on the righteous and the wicked.”
If we envision a non-vindictive God of truly unconditional love many will accuse us of embracing a watered-down view of God. I’m sure that is what some of Jesus original hearers said. As for me, I will embrace Jesus’ conception of a God of love, forgiveness, and self-sacrifice.