Why God Is Not A Nice God

Why God Is Not A Nice God January 7, 2014

Privileged to feature a guest post from my friend P. Andrew Sandlin, founder and President of the Center for Cultural Leadership with whom I serve as Junior Scholar of Cultural Theology and Director of Development.

God is not a nice God.

There are many lessons we can learn from Samuel’s farewell address in I Samuel 12, but the most weighty lesson is  God’s faithfulness, not ours.  Our faithfulness is possible only because of God’s: “I … plead with you before the LORD concerning all the righteous deeds of the LORD that he performed for you and for your fathers” (v. 7).

Did you notice something odd? Samuel didn’t speak of God’s grace or mercy, but of his righteous deeds. Of course, God is gracious to us, but he’s gracious in his righteousness.

Why God Is Not a Nice God

Let me explain. Samuel is saying that God does right by his people. We often miss this. Because we don’t think covenantally, this fact of God’s character is invisible. We then think that God acts sentimentally. But God isn’t a sentimentalist. When he willingly bound himself to his people in covenant, he bound himself to act in a certain way toward them.

God isn’t arbitrary. He acts according to his character. He willingly entered into covenant with his people, Israel and us. This means that when he loves and protects and disciplines and forgives and restores us — he’s doing what he covenanted to do. God isn’t just “being nice.” We don’t serve a nice God. We serve a God far greater than a nice God. We serve a covenant-keeping God.

And that God is much more loving, much more vigorous, much more powerful.

And this is why even though Israel sinned in demanding a king, God didn’t turn his back in his people. They confessed their sin (v. 19). See Samuel’s response: “Do not be afraid.”

Isn’t that beautiful? God is bound to forgive, and he loves to forgive, his repentant people. That’s not God’s being nice. That’s part of his character. That’s who God is.

God Always Does Right by His People

This is why God is relentless in his faithfulness to his people. Even when we sin against him, he acts to bring us back. He reminds the Jews that he sold them into captivity (see vv. 9–11), not to harm them, but to press them to repent and turn to him. Think of this. God doesn’t get fed up and annoyed and abandon his people. He doesn’t throw up his hands and say, “I’m through with you.” Even when he’s says things like this in exasperation (and he does say this from time to time), he always seems to relent.

Why? He’s a covenant-keeping God. He loves to perform righteous deeds for his people.  He’ll move heaven and earth to rescue his people.

And this is why Samuel says, “The Lord will not abandon his people because he wants to uphold his great reputation” (v. 22, NET Bible).

And this is why God’s people in the Bible again and again do not pray sentimental prayers to God, “God, you’re a nice God. Please be nice to us.” A thousand times no. They pray, “God, you’re covenant-keeping God. You have bound yourself to me, and us. You are bound by your own character to help me, to help us. God, I remind you of your covenant word to your people. If you don’t come through, imagine how your reputation will be ruined in the presence of the wicked. They’ll scoff at this God who couldn’t rescue his people. God, be faithful to your covenant. Be faithful to your character.”

These are the prayers that God answers.  God isn’t a sentimentalist. God isn’t a nice God.

He’s much, much more. He is a faithful, covenant-keeping God. This is the God we love and serve.

Do you think of God as a nice God? How has he fulfilled his covenants with you? Share your experience with a comment by clicking here.

Photo by Fotografik33

"Devon never condemned musical instruments."

Why I’ve Stopped Singing in Your ..."
"Anyone want the address and phone number of one of these douche bags? ;> j/k ..."

Westboro Baptist Church a Hate Group? ..."
"When I leave a church service I know the LORD asks me "How was YOUR ..."

Why I’ve Stopped Singing in Your ..."
"Yes. And the truth wins on this one. Thank you sir."

Why I’ve Stopped Singing in Your ..."

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!

What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Sagrav

    “He reminds the Jews that he sold them into captivity (see vv. 9–11), not to harm them, but to press them to repent and turn to him.”

    God: Love me and stay loyal to me or I will sell you into slavery.

    This god comes across as a sort of ‘divine’ abusive spouse. “I hurt you because I love you and I want what’s best for you… so you better do as I say.” To an outsider to the religion, none of that looks righteous, just, or loving. Are we supposed to believe that these actions are good because a god commits them, or that acts of cruelty are just if the one committing them has good intentions?

    • Nemo

      I honestly have more respect for the Christians who say “God is the boss, he does what he wants, now get back in line and worship” than the ones who patronizingly insist that Jesus loves me. The former, while it lacks extraordinary evidence to back up extraordinary claims, is an intellectually consistent and honest statement.

  • Fallulah

    How can you say this with a straight face? If anything he is an incredibly inactive god!

  • powerful word. thank you! It is so true that we tend to make God a sentimental one, ruled by feelings and emotion rather than his character and covenant. Those who know this can say, like David, “It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes” (Psalm 119:71) or like James, “Count it all joy when you fact trials of various kinds!” because this is building up your faith! (James 1:3-5). We can be confident that for those who love God (which means they worship him in truth and spirit), God will bring about all things, even afflictions, for our good.

    On a joint blog about holiness I recently wrote about the difference between gospel love and sentimentality. If interested: http://umcholiness.wordpress.com/2013/12/26/a-return-to-gospel-love-over-sentiment/

  • Jon Wilson

    I so appreciate this article and I believe it fits with the God who is revealed in the history of Israel, in Christ, and with the people of God in history. I know that it is a trial to realize that God ISN’T Nice, but faithful and merciful in the midst of covenant mercies. I have struggled with the God revealed as a once in-the-closet “ex-” gay, and now as an “out’ gay believer in a committed relationship. It is hard to see God’s severe mercies as anything but out-of-control wrath, when it is anything but. Two things however, that I would add to this discussion. I have been challenged by God’s statements in Hosea 11 in which the Creator states how God has cared for Israel, forgiven, and restore for so long; and then, speaks of the punishment to come. But in the middle of this, Adonai says, “How can I give you up,…?…My heart recoils within me; my compassion grows warm and tender within me. I will not execute my fierce anger; I will not again destroy…for I am God and no mortal, the Holy One in your midst, and I will not come in wrath. (Hosea 11: 8- 9).” Here is the great God of Israel, doing MORE than was promised in the Covenant with Moses. THIS God, beyond covenant, acts in ways to help and save us beyond what is promised even in Covenant. This God poured out love, mercy, and grace into the womb of a Virgin, at the Cross, and continues to do so. The God of Covenant is not the God of contracts, but the God who gives boundaries for us, but acts beyond the boundaries. As my old Bishop used to say, “God works through the sacraments (or means of grace), but is not bound by them.”

  • Jon Wilson

    And secondly, this God beyond covenant, creates a NEW Covenant that is not based in any way on my contributions, excepting grateful reception in faith, weak or strong. That’s what keeps me going.

  • Free The Drones

    As every one is praising this article I highly disagree. If God isn’t sentimental then you praise a harsh God. There for the God we worship does not care for the destruction of us. I am a student that goes to the school you used to be the Principal of. So if God is not sentamintal then he will not wipe our tears away. The way we interpret a Book is very important because it tells you the ways to start life and end it but not what exactly to do in the middle of your life. Do not blindly except what one is saying I came to realize in CCA . To truly understand God and Find God. One needs to find truth independently. Let them go through trials and not try to force your self upon them. God is sentimental in my eyes. Being sentimental shows that you care. Every human longs for sentimental emotion from others. Jesus showed it.

  • I don’t think of God as nice, or even as loving (though I know that he is). Having sentimental thoughts about God accomplishes nothing, because it’s not niceness or love that we need. Everyone wants to be loved, of course, but being loved does not change a person. What we need is “rightness” in our soul, or righteousness. That doesn’t come to us through love, but through belief.

    When I was a teenager trying to cope with being abandoned by my Dad, my mother started watching the 700 Club a lot. I couldn’t stand that smarmy talk about Jesus knocking at the door of my heart, etc. That’s not what I needed. I needed to know how to be a man and to deal with betrayal so I could grow up with some dignity and confidence. So I became an atheist and would have nothing to do with Christ. It took another 30 years for me to rediscover him, no thanks to any evangelist.

    But I think that substituting “covenant” for “love” is not much of an improvement. Whether I think that God is faithful towards me or whether he loves me, how does that actually change me? It seems to require a grateful response, but gratitude does not save my soul. In the end, it’s righteousness my soul needs, and that comes through faith, which is not a response but an understanding of the truth, the deep things that directly affect the soul. I wrote more on the subject recently in a blog article called Meaningless Love.

    As alluded to by another commenter, when you make the gospel all about love, intelligent people will balk, because if you turn down God’s love, you get sent to hell. Yes, God’s motive is love, and he is faithful, but those facts do very little to tell us about this thing called salvation.

  • “We don’t serve a nice God.” It’s an honest admission, but I see it as mere projecting—onto an “El” deity plagiarized from Ugaritic tablets*—your own unacceptable attributes.

    “Men rarely (if ever) manage to dream up a God superior to themselves. Most Gods have the manners and morals of a spoiled child.” ~Robert Heinlein
    * Mark S. Smith (Professor of Bible and Near Eastern Studies, New York University) The Origins of Biblical Monotheism: Israel’s Polytheistic Background and the Ugaritic Texts (Oxford University Press, 2001)