It’s a popular thing to say in some religious circles:
“Nice” is not a fruit of the Spirit.
“Niceness” is not a Christian virtue.
Anyone can be nice.
Nice people “nice” other people straight to hell.
God is not nice. God is tough. He is harsh. He’s a consuming fire of meanness! (for maximum effect use Monster Truck voice here).
Ranting is next to godliness, not niceness.
This is then followed by copious references to John the Baptist screaming “brood of vipers” (note, at religious people) or Jesus yelling, “Hypocrites!” (once again, at religious folks).
Someone forwarded me a blog post by a pastor with the latest example of slamming “niceness,” shredding in the process a few prominent opponents he regards as too “nice.” He has a point. But he got me thinking (which may or may not have been his point) and realizing, that, well, God is nice (at least he can be). Niceness is even a fruit of the Spirit. We just don’t usually translate the pertinent family of Greek words with our “nice” one, even though that would be, well, a nice translation.
Consider the definition of our word “nice.”
“Showing or requiring great precision or sensitive discernment. Subtle.”
So that’s what we mean when we say “nice sermon” or “nice post.”
“Respectable. Virtuous. Friendly. Attractive.” An “intense, extreme” to the nth degree, even.
Antonyms: “vague, insensitive, blunt, indecent, unfriendly, unattractive, unbecoming, inappropriate.”
Now, I look at those antonyms, and yes, I can see all of those fitting the Bible at one point or another and the portrait of God captured there at one point or another, particularly the further back we go. Actually, we don’t have to go any further back than the Old Testament prophets.
Isaiah walking around naked for three years? So not nice. Point taken.
But now consider the definition of the word translated “kindness” in Paul’s famous “fruit of the Spirit” listing (Galatians 5:22-23). χρηστότης (cray-stow-tace) from the root word χρηστός (cray-stows) – just one letter off from “Christ” in Greek. Definition?
“Fit, fit for use, useful; virtuous, good; manageable; mild, pleasant (as opposed to harsh, hard, sharp, bitter); of things: more pleasant; of people: kind, benevolent.”
Gosh, that sounds nice.
Now for a quick tour of biblical niceness…
“Come to me all you who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn of me, for my yoke is χρηστός (easy, kind, nice) and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)
“Love ye your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again; and your reward shall be great, and ye shall be the children of the Highest: for he is χρηστός (easy, kind, nice) unto the unthankful and to the evil.” (Yes, I’m just in a KJV mood today, what can I say! Luke 6:35)
“Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the χρηστός (easy, kind, niceness) of God leadeth thee to repentance?” (Romans 2:4)
All together now: God is nice. And his niceness is the definitive divine draw into the ultimate paradigm shift that is “repentance.”
And another: “And be ye χρηστός (easy, kind, nice) to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.” (Ephesians 4:32)
Yes, we are commanded to be nice. χρηστότης (cray-stow-tace) niceness is the fifth of the nine listed fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23 – which puts nice right. in. the. middle.
Is nice the whole picture? No. I know this may be a bit more Bible than some of you are used to, but bear with me, just one more: “Behold therefore the χρηστότης (niceness) and severity of God; on them which fell, severity; but toward thee, χρηστότης (niceness), if thou continue in [his] χρηστότης (niceness).” (Romans 11:22)
Niceness and abruptness in alternating rhythms – with the charge for us to continue in the rhythm of niceness. And for the most part we are told to leave abrupt and blunt severity to God, probably because if it were left up to us we’d end up nuking everyone.
Think about that.
So play nice
Why are we so eager to embrace anger and ranting as Jesus values and dismiss “nice” as a work of the devil? We talk about people leading others smilingly to hell – but isn’t it just as absurd to imagine leading others sneeringly and snarkily to heaven? And does anyone really want that heaven? Aren’t we inundated with enough of that here?
Perhaps this is a simple way to determine which rhythm is the best choice: which do we want back? – not just from each other, but when it matters most: as we stand naked before the Source of all Reality (which is, if we could only see it, where we all are right now)?
“Judgment will be without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy; but mercy triumphs over judgment.”