THE TONY CROSS COLUMN
Article No. 17
Rain on the righteous
All of life seems geared to rewards and punishments. When we are good we are rewarded one way or another; when we do evil or perform badly we suffer one way or another. And sometimes we suffer when we have not done good or evil!
Rain falls on the righteous? Rain – that all important basic resource that millions are short of and fight over. Blessed rain that falls on us and provides our basic needs – not only drinking water but also water for our cattle and for washing. But when it rains it also rains on the unrighteous. Perhaps sometimes we feel slightly cheated by this – they don’t deserve it. Why is it that sometimes people do badly and still get rewarded? Why is it that the evil sometimes prospers? Why is it that men employed for the whole day sometimes receive just the same wages as those who worked for the last few hours only? It doesn’t seem fair!
So fairness and righteousness get mixed up. After all, we think, it is only fair that good actions are rewarded and bad acts punished. Well it is, isn’t it?
This is how we run our world isn’t it? But sometimes we glimpse a different set of values. People who give of themselves, freely, without stint. We think of those who die in wartime, fighting for their country. Or we think of the loving daughter, no longer young, who has cared for her mother for thirty years. Or the doctor toiling long hours, and not for money.
In these cases we recognize something else besides fairness. Something else besides rewards for doing good – we recognize a quiet heroism. So what is this heroism? And why does it sometimes inspire us? Why is it so moving?
Perhaps it is because it is a voluntary act – whether in an instant or going on for years – a self-giving which sacrifices life itself. What these people do, in a moment or for thirty years, is to sacrifice themselves for others.
Jesus shows us that God is just like that, only more so. He is a person who gives himself. He pours himself out for others with no thought for himself. In his life. In his death. Now for evermore.
There is another side to it as well, however. In order to do what he did, he must have been utterly self-assured. It seems odd to talk of God being self-assured, and it is not something often commented on in these terms. We might say that he was ‘full of faith’ - we have to search for words to describe this – perhaps we can refer to it as God’s supreme self-affirmation. When, on the other hand, we have to tussle to overcome feelings of inferiority and inadequacy, this works against the giving of ourselves. We say that we do not have much faith.
For example, I cannot stand on a stage and ‘give myself’ in an amateur dramatics production. I would be paralyzed with embarrassment. I would just freeze up. My inhibitions would block any desire I might have to perform. I have no faith that I could do it. This kind of thing happens in all sorts of fields to all of us and no doubt you will be able to match my example with one of your own.
God however is not like that. He has no inhibitions. He just gives himself totally and eternally. He is so ‘self-assured’ (to use our human term) or positive, or creative, or self-affirming – or whatever words you can find for a being without any negative in him at all – that he is unlike us.
When the daughter serves her ageing or sick mother over thirty years there are bound to be moments when she regrets her lot or has some resentment.
God is love – not that God has love, but actually ‘is’ love. When uninhibited total love meets need, it just pours itself out – just as Christ gave and gave and gave himself again. Love spends itself, without counting the cost. It is that element of extravagant self-giving that we admire, that lifts our spirits when we see it. It makes us pause and stand back in admiration.
That is why we stand back when we look at the cross, if we really see that act of self giving. Then we wonder what that really means for our lives.
The ‘wonder-full’ idea of course is that such self giving is itself its own reward. It is lifted out of the normal reward/ punishment value scale and shows us a deeper truth: the universe is formed, built and able to function on the basis of self-giving love.
The marriage of two people is a dim reflection of this self- giving. When I married I was much blessed by a quotation from I know not where, which said in effect that the secret of marriage was to live with one aim: to make your partner great.
The sexual giving of oneself to one’s partner is one million miles from just taking, or trying to take, pleasure for yourself from your partner. If you focus on making them feel wonderful, incredibly, somehow, you feel wonderful. And it doesn’t matter whether it is a man or a woman, two men or two women – it is the quality of self-giving that is the core essence of what life is about. In microcosm it is the love of God reflected in human beings who lose selfish motivation through love for another.
When we come up against the rules and prohibitions of society – all the dogma and ritual of churches – all the laws and statutes of the land – we need to remember that at heart life is all about self-giving.
No rules or regulations can ever enforce self-giving. All they can ever do is lay down limits and boundaries for human behaviour. Only the quiet self-giving of the man for his partner – only the sight of the mother cooing to her fretful child at three o’clock in the morning – when we see this self-giving demonstrated we become inspired to do likewise.
Without the cross this message would never have spread across the whole earth, into all the nations, and become permeated in all value systems. Only the cross reveals what makes life real and vibrant and exciting – which is the free choice of self-giving. It is truly the ‘key’ to life for all mankind.
The rain falls on the righteous and the unrighteous…
Why do we find it so difficult to be self-giving? Maybe because we lack confidence, maybe because we don’t think anyone else cares, so we’ll have to look after ourselves first. Maybe because we have therefore just learned to be selfish – self-regarding. Maybe we have not seen many examples of self-giving in our lives. If our families were self-seeking and no person in our upbringing modelled this attitude to life, maybe we find it hard to imagine how to act in this way. Yet surely all of us have seen people who have poured out their life for others? If not, then at least we have heard of the cross?
One of the tragedies of the present slide from church is that more and more people have not heard the story of Jesus – have never caught sight of his self-giving of the cross.
How are they going to learn the secret of living? Only if we show them. How can we show them? Only by living out our lives day by day on the basis of self-giving. Only by trying in our poor inadequate way to live out the life of self giving as we see it in Jesus. When we follow his model in the small decisions of each day, others will see in our lives the outworking of his love.
So here at the end of my piece is the relevant quote from the gospels:
“But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you in order that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes the sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax-gathers do the same? And if you greet your brothers only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”