Yesterday, the Opposition Leader Tony Abbott, a former trainee Roman Catholic priest, quoted Matthew 5:45. The following is an extract from a transcript of an interview with Kieran Gilbert of Sky News:
KIERAN GILBERT: And if it was another metre up, we’re already seeing thousands of people in the low lying areas, their homes inundated, all of them, for many of them their life’s work up in a few minutes, but then you have thousands of other having this reprieve today, it’s a bit weird isn’t it?
TONY ABBOTT: Look, the rain falls on the just and the unjust alike. I mean, we know that it is a lottery here and the tragedy is that many people are impacted. The joy is that many people have escaped what could have been worse. But as I said, we must do what we can for those impacted, remembering that the aftershocks of this are going to be felt for many weeks and months and even perhaps years to come. This is the adrenalin surge phase of the crisis. We will soon be entering the true grit phase where people have just got to work long and hard and heartbreakingly at cleaning up and recovering.
There was a bit of comment about Mr Abbott using Biblical language, including that it was a “vengeful God quote“. The context here clearly shows that Mr Abbott was talking about how some people got flooded and some did not. If it seemed an odd quote, perhaps it would have been better to have quoted the whole thing:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. Matthew 5:43-48 (ESV)
Instead of describing some indiscriminate allocation of good and bad circumstances, Jesus teaches here that the basic essentials of life, even the turning of the earth, are actively directed by God. In theology, this is part of what is known as Common Grace (as opposed to Special Grace, God’s undeserved mercy in saving people from sin). Of course, no one deserves anything good from God because we are all in rebellion against Him (hence the need for Special Grace), so if the benefits of Common Grace are withdrawn, we have no grounds to complain.
God’s behaviour towards us is put forward as His standard of how we should treat other people. At the conclusion of this section, the height of this standard is shown for what it is: unattainable. Instead of excusing us from the standard, we must realise how bad a situation we find ourselves in and call on this one who loves even His enemies to save us from His own just punishment of sin.