Excerpts from the Gospel of Matthew
Below is a brief summary of some of the passages and themes of the Gospel of Matthew,
which should be helpful for your second paper assignment.


Matthew 5.1-11
: It is here that we get the Beatitudes; we find out who is blessed and who will be rewarded in heaven. What's important to note here is that there are two sorts of people who are blessed that should be somewhat surprising: the poor in spirit and the meek. In lecture, we reflected a bit on whether we value those who are poor in spirit and meek. Intuitively, it seems we don't; on the contrary, we value quite the opposite--those who are strong in spirit and not meek. So, this might make us wonder whether and how God's values differ from ours, for clearly he appreciates and rewards certain human qualities that we don't.


Matthew 13.47-50: It is here that we first get a description of what is to happen at the 'close of the age.' Jesus claims that the angels will 'separate the evil from the righteous', like fisherman separate the good fish from the bad, and that the evil will then be cast down into 'the furnace of fire', where 'men will weep and gnash their teeth.' This might make us wonder such things like: Exactly who are the evil and the righteous? Should/do we delight in this picture, where the righteous are rewarded, and the evil are tossed into the furnace of fire? What does it say of us if we do delight in such a picture? Would this be a very righteous attitude? What does it say of God that he would have a world where angels separate good and bad men, as fisherman separate good and bad fish?


Matthew 19.23-30: This is where Jesus claims, "...it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God." Also, this is where Peter asks Jesus what they (the disciples) get in return for giving up everything and following him (Jesus). Jesus' response is then to say that all who follow him will get eternal life. He also claims that "many who are first will be last, and the last first."  So, again, we are getting a picture of an ultimate reward for those who follow God or Jesus--eternal life. And we already know from Matthew 13.47-50 that the evil shall get punished, since they will be cast down into the furnace of fire. So it seems that God has set up a system of rewards and punishments, where the good will be rewarded with eternal life, while the evil are punished with (eternal) fire. Some questions to think about in light of this passage: Should we be bothered by Jesus' answer to Peter? Why? What does it say of God, that he is going to reward the good in the way that Jesus claims? What does it say of God's values if he really does have a system of rewards and punishments in this way? And are these values our values, or are they different? If they are different, how?


Matthew 25.31-46: This passage is the Judgment of the Nations. It is explained that at the close of the age, God will separate the "sheep" from the "goats", placing the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. The sheep will ascend with God into eternal life (heaven), while the goats will be sent down into eternal fire (hell). So, again, we get a description of the world as a place where we will ultimately be judged and then sentenced, being either rewarded or punished for our actions/behavior on earth. What's more, however, is that these rewards and punishments are infinite, whereas the deeds we do to get them are finite. So this raises some further questions: Leaving aside the question of what it says of God that he should have a world of rewards/punishments, what does it say of him that he should dole out infinite rewards and punishments for finite deeds? Also, think about the analogy of the sheep and the goats. If the analogy is to be taken seriously, what does this say of God? For example, what do we normally think of sheep? Given that, then what does it say of God that he should value them?   
   
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Two Views of God: In class, we've been discussing at least two different views of God, given the Gospel of Matthew and the Book of Job: God as the Super-Nazi and God as the Non-Rewarder/Punisher. Below is a brief summary of each.

God, the Super-Nazi: On this view, God is an incredibly powerful tyrant, who doles out punishment arbitrarily. He is characterized primarily by his response to Job in the Book of Job: when Job asks God why he has done what he has, or why he has allowed such things to happen to Job, God's response is simply to point out how powerful he (God) is compared to puny Job. In lecture, David Reeve likened this response to a response a very powerful, tyrannical person (e.g., a Nazi) might give to someone oppressed by the Nazi's power. The idea is that if we imagined a person behaving in the way that God of the Book of Job behaves, we wouldn't think that the person was a very good person; on the contrary, we would think them pretty morally corrupt. So on one reading of the Book of Job, God is a powerful, tyrannical, morally corrupt being, who will let good people suffer (like Job) whenever he feels like it. Also, on this interpretation of God, the above passages of Matthew can be read in a particular way. Namely, that if we thought that it was unfair that God should provide infinite rewards and punishments for finite deeds, then it is fitting that a Super-Nazi God should have the universe set up in this unfair way. Moreover, this interpretation explains why God should value the meek, the poor of spirit, and the 'sheep'--for he is super powerful, and everyone under his power is weak and subordinate, as they should be.


God, the Non-Rewarder/Punisher: On this view, God is not in the business of judging, or rewarding and punishing. The Book of Job is supposed to be a primary example of this, since it is essentially about a man, Job, who does not get rewarded for being good. On the contrary, he is tested and tortured and used as an example because he is so morally upstanding. The idea is supposed to be that God wants us to value the good (and dis-value the bad) for its own sake, not because of some reward we'll get if we do value it, or some punishment we'll receive if we don't. On this interpretation, the Book of Job is supposed to show that the world is not a 'moral machine' where good things happen to good people, and bad things happen to bad. Rather, things will simply happen as they do--sometimes bad things happening to good people, and good things to bad. The point, however, from God's point of view, is that people should want to be good simply because it's good to be good, not because of what one might get out of being good. Likewise, one should avoid being bad simply because it's bad to be bad, not because of the consequences that might result from being bad.

On this interpretation of God, the above passages of the Book of Matthew can be seen as a sort of test. If we accept and actually like the idea that the world is one in which we will one day have to be judged, divided, and punished and rewarded appropriately--and punished and rewarded eternally--then this will reflect something morally corrupt about ourselves. Namely, that we would approve of and endorse a world that encouraged people to be good simply because of what one could get out of doing so. So we should reject this idea and come to see that God must not really be one who rewards and punishes. We should see, for example, that the question that Peter asks Jesus in Matthew 19.27 is a deplorable one, and that the response is just as bad. That it might have at first seemed a good question and an acceptable answer is simply God's way of tempting us into a vile picture of the world. However, with some reflection, we should realize that this can't be how the world is--that, e.g., there is nothing moral in relishing in the eternal suffering of one's enemies, that we shouldn't want them to suffer in the first place, and that we should want that people are good because being good is its own intrinsic reward, not because of anything else.



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