God's Golden Rule

You've heard of the Golden Rule. I have a new rule for you. I'll call it God's Golden Rule. Here it is:
God's Golden Rule:
God will treat you the way you treat others.
Jesus teaching God's Golden Rule:
Luke 6.37-38
“Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”

Matthew 6.14-15
"For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins."

Matthew 7.1-2
“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you."

Mark 4.24
And he said to them, “Pay attention to what you hear: with the measure you use, it will be measured to you..."

Mark 11.35
"And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.”
So there they are, the two Golden Rules:
Treat others as you would like to be treated.

God will treat you the way you treat others.

This entry was posted by Richard Beck. Bookmark the permalink.

38 thoughts on “God's Golden Rule”

  1. Ever heard of "The Water Babies" by Charles Kingsley? Victorian children's book. Two main characters are Mrs Doasyouwouldbedoneby and Mrs Bedonebyasyoudid

  2. I trust you mean it this way—which is itself, I trust, the force of it coming from Jesus—but this is more or less terrifying to hear.

  3. "I have 10,000 km of forgiveness to grant you, but you forgave your neighbors in furlongs, and I just can't do the math."

  4. I don't think Jesus is trying to be a systematic theologian with this. What I think he's doing is leveraging religion into something relational and ethical. Specifically, he uses the God/human dynamic to focus upon, elevate and energize the human/human dynamic.

    Which I think is genius. I don't obsess about if God forgives me--the classic neurotic of Christians--but about getting on with the hard work of, you know, living like Jesus in the world. Focus on that--on people--and the God stuff will take care of itself.

  5. Excellent post. The inextricable link between our relationship with God and others, particularly others with less power or resources than ourselves, is a theme Jesus repeats time and again, especially through the eyes of Matthew--- Matt. 2 Love God/Love others as yourself. Matt. 25....as you did unto the least of these, you did it unto me....and whatever you didn't do, you didn't do unto me. Matt. 18 God won't forgive the massive debt we owe if we don't forgive the puny debts our brothers owe us....Matt 6 forgive us our debts as we have forgiven our debtors. Sobering thought.

  6. Absolutely. God is forgiveness -- all the way down. It's not as if when I confess/repent, then God forgives me. What's so extraordinary about that? And why would that be good news? That's the way the world works -- the way of law -- and, as you say, the way of neurosis, of doubt and anxiety. For how can I be sure that my confession/repentence is not compromised by both self-interest and self-deception? I can't -- because it most certainly is. My confession/repentence -- it is simply(!) an essay in -- indeed a "Whoopee!" of -- gratitude for prevenient forgiveness. Like God is going to change his mind about me -- change from being angry to loving-forgiving -- because of something I do, something I do? God never changes his mind about me; what God does is to get me to change my mind about him.

    So God's forgiveness I can always count on, God's forgiveness I always get before I ask for it, or even think of asking for it. The question is not do I get it, the question is do I get it. I get it when I pass it on, when I forgive others as God forgives me. Otherwise, while I still get it, I don't get it. If you catch my drift.

  7. I've heard it called the Platinum Rule, Leonard Sweet I think. Do unto others as you would have God do onto you.

    Great post

  8. Giving and receiving, refusing and not receiving, reaping what we sow, our bread cast upon the waters returning to us, I believe, is part of the architecture and fabric of God's creation which plays out through each movement within human embracing and interaction; that the forgiveness of God, or non-forgiveness, is simply the awareness that comes about in being sensitive to this fabric of being. After all, for some, forgiveness means nothing. For others, it is the spirit in which they survive and give life. It is these who feel the thorns when, in moments of forgetfulness, they realize they have not been as forgiving as they should have been.

  9. What if you are really nice to some people and really mean to others? :) Just kidding of course, but I find it interesting how some people who do terrible things can at the same time be incredibly generous and kind to their friends and family and believe they are righteous people who are simply punishing the wicked.

  10. I think Jesus had a word for those sorts of people:

    "If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect."

  11. He sets the bar pretty high. :) On a side note though it was encouraging to see the church via Pope Francis make that distinction by excommunicating the mafia finally. While I don't know if I understand it very well I think who the church chooses to exclude sometimes sends just as strong a message as who is chooses to include.

  12. All right, then where does universal reconciliation fit into all of this? Where does grace? Or do we save ourselves by doing good things so that God will do good things for us? And if we're doing good and avoiding bad simply because we don't want God doing the same to us, doesn't that ultimately make our actions selfish and therefore not good?

    This isn't me paying intellectual games, either, I am genuinely disturbed with how much this sounds like you blithely supporting ethics-by-punishment. Maybe I'm misunderstanding you, so I'm asking for some clarifications.

  13. Can you motivate love out of fear? Or will it just be an act?

    "Don't do it because you'll get in trouble" is something I try not to teach even to the three-year olds in my care.

  14. But that last part is, to me, why I can't support the idea that "God will do to you whatever you've done to others." Doesn't that refocus all the energy back onto fear-of-God and self-preservation rather than a genuine empathy with your fellow human being? As I've said in a few other places (sorry, I get repetitive when I'm upset), I don't think that doing good deeds out of fear of punishment or desire for reward cultivate a good psychology for people. It's certainly not good for *mine*.

  15. But that's the exact opposite of what Dr. Beck is saying here! He's saying God only forgive when you forgive other people, NOT God is forgiveness "all the way down." God limits his forgiveness to forgiving people.

    What am I missing here that everybody thinks this post is awesome rather than contradicting so many things that he's written before?

  16. Or to put it better - I don't WANT to be in a relationship with a God I'm terrified of! That's really what's getting under my skin, I think. A God who watches us, judging us constantly, ready to mete out rewards and punishment, is not a God I want anything to do with.

    Again, going back to my work with children: try to imagine if I did this as a teacher. If your toddler hit a child, should I hit them back, and tell them that I will do so every time they hit again? I don't know what you'd personally answer, but I'd be fired and never hired anywhere again, because that's ABUSE. That's what you want God to be. I can't agree with that, ever.

  17. This is an important point - that God takes our behaviour into account when deciding how to deal with us - but I don't think it's the final word. Looking at the arc of the biblical story, it doesn't seem like God is limiting His/Her goodness to the level of goodness demonstrated by humans.

  18. So is it Ok for us not to forgive the unforgiving, whereas we must forgive any other sin? If not, then why is it ok for God. I agree with friendly reader. This is one of Professor Beck's least attractive post - still, he's only following Jesus, so........

  19. No, I think Dr. Beck is saying, not that God withholds his forgiveness from the unforgiving, but that God's forgiveness (if you like) gets traction in our lives only as the forgiven become, by grace, the forgiving. Just so, God does not withhold his love from the unloving until they become loving, or his grace from the ungracious until they become gracious. Though how true it is that Christians often speak (particularly from pulpits) of God's unconditional love and grace with their fingers crossed behind their backs! Here, try a little Herbert McCabe (at his most radical, provocative -- and right):

    "His [God's] love for us doesn't depend on what we do or what we are like. He doesn't care whether we are sinners or not. It makes no difference to him. He is just waiting to welcome us with joy and love. Sin doesn't alter God's attitude to us; it alters our attitude to him, so that we change him from the God who is simply love and nothing else, into this punitive ogre, this Satan. Sin matters enormously to us if we are sinners; it doesn't matter at all to God. In a fairly literal sense he doesn't give a damn about our sin. It is we who give the damns."

  20. Forgiveness is the first operational definition of faith (the kind that saves) I've ever heard that seems sensible and perhaps achievable.

  21. Um...how is that what he's saying? He says "God will treat you as you treat other," not "your attitude towards others will affect your attitude towards God." He's not talking about our actions, he's talking about God's actions, how God's actions are conditional upon our actions. Look at the verses he quotes: "But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins." It doesn't say "God forgives your sins, but you won't realize this unless you forgive other people's sins." That's another layer of interpretation placed over the text. Where does he place that layer in this post? Gods "golden rule" is that God will do to us whatever we do to others. And see my posts below on why that bothers me so much - I do not want a relationship with a God I am living in fear of, where God's justice is retributive, where behaving well is contingent upon a system of rewards and punishment versus a common recognition of imago Dei.

    And given that I have seen Dr. Beck say some similar things (see his recent post on how interpreting Christ's death and resurrection as appeasing God's wrath ascribes qualities formerly given to the devil to God), I'm trying to figure out how that connects to this post supporting a retributive God. I want to hear from him on this.

  22. It has been a long time since I've read and been inclined to comment. I hope you are well, Dr. Beck. I am grateful for the months (maybe years?) during which I was a daily reader. "Unclean" remains a favorite book of mine, and one that continues to have an impact on my life. I am somewhat surprised by the direction you chose to take this post. I don't agree, and maybe you are simply presenting a thought experiment (it *is* experimental theology, after all). No matter, I hold you in highest regard and with deepest gratitude for the welcoming treatment I received here. Peace, Susan N.

  23. i have p.t.s.d from trauma and flasbacks full of anger for those who have harmed and tortured me. at these times my hatred is as present for them as when the offenses and crimes took place years ago! glad to say god is w/ me & helps me when this happens, he is a present help in time of trouble to me as he promised.

  24. is it like 'groking'? or to grok something? means to know that you know that you know it cuz your mind and heart are alive and you feel deeply and empathetically something is true tho maybe someone who hasn't had the experience you've had may never agree w/ you?

  25. Hi Susan, I can see how the direction of the post is surprising. But very few words of the post are mine.

    During my bible study one day I was struck by this regular and consistent theme in Jesus's teaching (at least in the Synoptic gospels) and pulled those texts into a post summarizing the overall point: God will treat us as we treat others.

    That's a hard teaching. But it's not my teaching.

  26. I think the problem here--one that affects both conservative and progressive Christians--is this bifurcating of God's forgiveness and human forgiveness. What I think Jesus is doing, as he often does, is collapse the two.

    For example, what are the real-world implications if God forgives us while we don't forgive others? Both progressives and conservatives have a problem on this score, this Gnostic, other-worldly, escapist, metaphysical, hyper-spiritual, supernatural "forgiveness." Because that's what we want. We want God's grace, mercy and forgiveness--we want a sweet loveable God--but we don't want to extend to others grace, mercy and forgiveness. Jesus jumps all over that nonsense. He flips the script with prophetic flair. And I recall he told a parable about just this problem, getting forgiven a great debt and then not forgiving others small debts. It's not going to work that way, Jesus says.

    An lets also keep the cosmic and "kingdom coming" scope in mind as well. God's forgiveness is very much associated with "peace on earth," us forgiving each other. God's plans for reconciling the whole world are just that, the reconciling of the whole world. To make us all, to borrow from Paul, ambassadors of reconciliation. Peacemakers.

    God's forgivness is beating our swords into plowshares.

  27. The key is to not be tempted by Gnosticism, making forgiveness a private spiritual drama between God and your soul. Forgiveness is cosmic, relational and corporate in scope. The key is to see universal reconciliation as the Kingdom coming to earth as it is in heaven. Universal reconciliation is just that universal reconciliation--all humanity reconciled to God and each other. This is Jesus's point. There can be no divine forgiveness without human reconciliation. The two are of a piece.

    Forgiveness comes when all our swords are beaten into plowshares. And if it's anything other than that it's a neurotic and metaphysical abstraction.

  28. I agree with this too - we're part of this "work" - it's our responsibility to participate in doing the forgiving as much as God does as well. We won't see the "other" kind of work that is being done - the hidden spiritual kind but if we allow our hearts to yield to wanting to forgive it's a start - the Holy Spirit can take us from there. But forgiving, I think, plays a huge part in reconciling the world and bringing peace upon earth.

  29. Thank you, Dr. Beck. I've learned many hard teachings since I first became acquainted with your blog. The Bible, and more importantly, those who would interpret it in hard, harsh terms for the "benefit" of others, do no good in service to those whom God loves, with mercy and grace.

    N.T. Wright (apparently) said this: "You become like what you worship. When you gaze in awe, admiration, and wonder at something or someone, you begin to take on something of the character of the object of your worship.”

    I will choose to re-member you -- one whom I admired intensely at a point in time -- and my God for the character of mercy, acceptance, and love.

    If God treats us the way we treat others, and we (every one of us) fails to love perfectly, then we must agree, rationally then, that God loves us imperfectly. To worship a god who loves imperfectly is illogical; on an emotional level, there isn't much appeal, for that matter.

    But if the Bible itself, and the rationale for a lesser god, provides solace and comfort to you, then I don't begrudge you this belief. I've moved on from such a place, though. Which has been good and healing.


Leave a Reply