Matthew’s Gospel reports Jesus’ instruction, “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, for in this way you will become children of your father in heaven, who makes his sun to rise on the wicked and the good; and sends rain on the just and the unjust.” God is a morally blind supplier of goods; his provision shows no favouritism. This grand equanimity of God in nature is viewed positively by Jesus as a challenge to a similar attitude in his disciples; but not everyone will see it that way. Decent people may wonder why wicked people get as good a deal as them; and very poor people may ask why they get as much bad weather as the idle rich.
I was reading some reports from Bangladesh, where destructive floods are common. In Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, there are camps for 900,000 Rohingya refugees who fled genocide in Myanmar. God certainly gave them rain this year- the monsoon brought persistent flooding which washed away their shelters, possessions and garden crops, leaving them vulnerable to exposure and disease. How can we celebrate the equanimity of God in relation to the already-afflicted Rohingyas?
Should we then hide this saying of Jesus away because it reveals too much difficult truth?
Certainly it shows how piously we accept the words of Jesus, looking only at their positive meaning – God’s goodness to sinners- without enquiring further. It’s good to be reassured that we’ll still get weather no matter how naughty we are.
Or is it? It all depends on the weather. Imagine those places in North America where the temperature rose to 50C last summer. Will they be looking forward to this year’s summer suns?
Our apprehension of God’s equanimity is based on the fact of the equanimity of nature: it shows no favouritism in its provision of mild or extreme conditions. indeed it’s likely that poorer nations will suffer more from global warming than richer ones, because they’ll be less equipped to cope with extremes of heat, cold, wind, and rain. At the same time, some rich nations will try to steal some of their resources.
It begins to look as if Jesus’ teaching is a marvellous piece of realism, using the moral carelessness of nature/ God as a model for excluding any notion of desert from the motivation of disciples, whose love is to be as blind as that of the creator. If that sounds a little harsh, then we should understand that only a morally neutral benevolence can include all of life, as any serious response to global warming must do. Peoples ruled by vicious dictators must benefit as much from ameliorative programmes as decent democracies.
But we can note that Jesus commanded an equality of love, not of provision, so that what we do for destitute nations may be appropriate to their need. Some Buddhist teaching also emphasises the equanimity of Buddha, and requires it from his disciples. Churches are not used to finding common cause with Buddhist communities, but it’s not really surprising that their founders had similar revelations.