God is All-Inclusive

"We are to love our enemies, says Jesus, because God does. God makes the 'sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous' (Matt. 5:45). We should love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us so that we may be children of this strange Parent, who 'is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked' (Luke 6:35).

"Much of what passes as religion denies the existence of such a God. Is not God precisely that moral force in the universe that rewards the good and punishes the evil? This had been the message of John the Baptist, and it would later be the message of the church. In John's preaching, God is depicted as verging on a massive and final counteroffensive against evil in which all evil will be exterminated. One whole side of reality will be wiped out. Ostensibly John has chaffy people in mind. God will obliterate them by fire.

"Jesus, by contrast, understood judgment not as an end but as a beginning. The penitential river of fire was not to consume but purify, not annihilate but redeem (Luke 15:1-32; 18:9-14). Divine judgment is intended not to destroy but to awaken people to the devastating truth about their lives. Jesus seized the apocalyptic vision of impending doom and hurls it into present time, into the present encounter with God's unexpected and unaccountable forgiveness. Judgment no longer is the last crushing word on a failed life, but the first word of a new creation.

"Jesus lived this new creation out in his table fellowship with those whom the religious establishment had branded outcasts, sinners, renegades: the enemies of God. He did not wait for them to repent, become respectable, and do works of restitution in hope of gaining divine forgiveness and human restoration. Instead, he audaciously burst upon these sinners with the declaration that their sins had been forgiven, prior to their repentance, prior to their having done any acts of restitution or reconciliation. Everything is reversed: you are forgiven; now you can repent! God loves you; now you can lift your eyes to God! The enmity is over. You were enemies and yet God accepts you! There is nothing you must do to earn this. You need only accept it. (Jesus' understanding is scarcely reflected in most Christian worship services, which make forgiveness conditional on repentance.)

"The radicalism of Jesus' image of God is hidden by the self-evident picture he draws from nature. God clearly does not favor some with sunshine and others with rain, depending on their righteousness. Yet society has in every possible way created the impression that only some are in God's favor and the other out. By our dress, color, nationality, wealth, gender, age, education, language, looks, and health, others can recognize instantly whether we are blessed or cursed, beloved or rejected. There are enormous benefits in going along with this selective grading of human beings, and severe penalties inflicted for its rejection. For these accidents of genetics and class determine one's social location and power, and anyone who tampers with them undermines the foundations of unequal privilege. To say that God does not sit atop the pyramid of power legitimating the entire edifice, does not favor some and reject others, is to expose the entire structure as a human contrivance established in defiance of God's very nature.

"God's all-inclusive parental care is thus charged with an unexpected consequence for human behavior: we can love our enemies, because God does. If we wish to correspond to the central reality of the universe, we will behave as God behaves — and God embraces all, evenhandedly. This radical vision of God, already perceived by the Hebrew prophets but never popular among the resident Powers, is the basis for the true human community."