raining misinterpretation: shining light on the most misunderstood scripture

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Friday, May 28th, 2010

raining misinterpretation: shining light on the most misunderstood scripture

i hate the rain. when the dark clouds begin to roll in, i have a sinking feeling. even more so than now, i particularly hated rain when i was a kid. rain meant no baseball game. it meant a ruined birthday party. it meant a soggy wait at the bus stop. even now, though, it means muddy little footprints from the girls. it means poor driving conditions. most importantly, though, it means unintentional puddle baths for my birkenstock-clad feet.

i’m not alone. culturally, we just generally hate rain. studies have shown that business productivity drops on rainy days and we even have phrases—such as “don’t rain on my parade”—that offer a pejorative connotation of rain. which leads us to biblical interpretation, naturally. ok, maybe not naturally, but it certainly does shine a light on something i’ve been thinking about recently.

a couple times in the past few weeks, i’ve heard people quote what might be the most misinterpreted verse in the bible, matthew 5:45. the second part of that verse states,

For [God] gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike.

i’m sure you’ve heard this and i’m sure you’ve heard it, particularly, in the context of someone explaining why bad things happen to good people. “naturally,” one might state, “bad things happen to good people because god doesn’t only send rain on evil people, but good people also.” the argument goes something like that.

there’s a slight problem with that, though. let’s examine a bit of the context, shall we?

this is taken from the sermon on the mount, where, specifically, jesus is teaching about loving one’s enemies. the fuller context states,

You have heard the law that says, `Love your neighbor’s and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike. If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. If you are kind only to your friends how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that.

so, in the context of teaching us to love our enemies, what sense would it make for jesus to assert that god does bad things to either those who are our friends or our enemies? obviously, it doesn’t. so what gives? why would jesus propose a seemingly negative circumstance?

it, of course, brings us back to our cultural connotation of rain. we—as in those of us who live in, particularly, urban areas (and even beyond)—generally have no use for the rain. rain is, in fact, a nuisance. it is, in fact, something that makes the afternoon commute home longer. it is, in fact, something that ruins birthdays and cancels baseball games and makes little feet muddy on the newly mopped floor.

but what if you’re hearing jesus’ sermon and you count on the rain to grow your crops? what if you hear his words and are someone who has animals that need to grow and reproduce and provide food for your family? what if you hear this and are someone with rudimentary water reservation systems and count on it for fresh water supplies?

in this case, of course, god is a very good god who brings the rain. god isn’t a sadistic god who torments people by sending rain on them. rather, god is good. in fact, god is good to everyone—not just those who are our friends, but also our enemies. good sends the rain, as we know, on the just and the unjust alike.

god is good. to everyone. god sees past our “good” and “bad” and offers the cleansing, sustenance and goodness of water to everyone, regardless of what they do or have done.

do bad things happen to good people? absolutely. without question. but what’s also without question is that this isn’t what jesus is asserting in this passage.

so, let’s all agree to quit misinterpreting this scripture and discontinue painting a picture of a god who is the author of bad. god is, in fact, a god who brings good. god is, in fact, a god who brings rain.

2 Comments

  1. A.W. Thomas says:

    I'm confused about you calling this the most misunderstood verse in the Bible. In 20 years of attending church and 10 years working in the church I have heard this verse interpreted countless times. I cannot remember anyone interpreting the "rain" as a negative thing. It is always interpreted as God's gracious love to the unbelieving. Even in all of the reformed literature I have read it is always an interpretation of God's common grace.

  2. Morgon77 says:

    I've never heard rain being presented (within the context of this verse) as a good thing in any church I've been in over the course of my life, though of course to an Agrarian society it would have been.

    Just saying, Ryan's not alone in seeing this.

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