A Christian friend of mine was rather allergic to the word ‘nice’. He had noticed how often it creeps into everyday conversation (“That’s nice”; “She’s nice”) and concluded that it is a weak, insipid, non-descript term that has little place in our working vocabulary. My friend rarely used the word himself. And when others used it he would often ask, “What exactly do you mean?”
The trouble is that for many Christians, ‘Thou shalt be nice’ has become the first and greatest commandment. The whole rich, varied, and majestic concept of Christian love has been reduced to this: God is nice, and God commands us to be nice to one another.
The God of the Old Testament, however, can scarcely be described as ‘nice’. This led Marcion (c85–c160) to conclude that the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is not the Christian God. The former was wrathful and vengeful, whereas the latter is kind, loving and gracious. The result was the Marcion produced his own canon of Scripture, which not only jettisoned the Old Testament in its entirely but also did a hatchet job on the New Testament (with only the Gospel of Luke and ten of Paul’s epistles surviving).
There are many would-be Marcions in the church today. However, he and they cannot have noticed just how much love and grace there is in the Old Testament and how much judgment there is in the New. In fact, the New Testament confirms and develops, and never denies or contradicts, the concept of God as taught in the Old Testament.
The truth is that some of the strongest statements of judgement and condemnation come from the lips of Jesus himself. There was nothing ‘nice’ about what he said about Chorazim, Bethsaida, and Capernaum (Mt 11:20-23). It was he who said that he had come to cast fire on the earth (Lk 12:49), not to be peace, but a sword (Mt 10:34). It was he who used a whip to drive out people from the temple (Jn 2:13-17). It was he who referred to certain religious leaders of the day as ‘hypocrites’,‘blind guides’, ‘blind fools’, ‘snakes’, and a ‘brood of vipers’. ‘How will you escape,’ he asked them, ‘being condemned to hell?’
There are many things we can say about Jesus’ personality. He was kind, forgiving, patient, compassionate. But we cannot say that he was ‘nice’.
And so it is with the followers of Jesus Christ. They too are called to be kind, forgiving, patient and compassionate. But they are not called to be ‘nice’. Their mission is not to avoid causing offence, at all costs. ‘Nice’ people do not transform the world.
We need a generation of Christians who will stand up for truth, get angry with injustice, fight against sin, be passionate about holiness, put themselves out to contend for the weak and oppressed.
In other words, we need a generation of Christians who are more like Christ.
The above draws on an article by Greg Downes in Christianity magazine (October 2012), entitled, ‘Are we nicer than God?’