Earlier this week, businessman, reality TV star, and former presidential candidate Donald Trump spoke at Liberty University’s convocation. As far as I can tell, convocation is like chapel, except that non-Christians are allowed to occasionally ascend the pulpit. In his speech, Trump said that if you want to be successful in business, you need to learn to punish people for crossing you. You have to be comfortable sending a message to those who wrong you by “getting even,” so others learn not to mess with you.
This was not the only troublesome line in his speech. He encouraged people to get prenuptial agreements in case of divorce, then joked that “you people never get divorces” (the “you people” apparently referring to Christians and/or Liberty students), and he spoke disparagingly of the President. But Trump is on his third wife, does not claim to be a Christian (as far as I know), so certainly can’t be expected to have a handle on the finer points of Christian business ethics, the seriousness of marriage, or the what it means to honor our leaders.
Thus, one could argue that it was unwise for Liberty to expose their student body to a non-Christian’s business ethics… Or one could argue that it was helpful to the University’s mission by giving their students a front row seat to a non-Christian businessman showing how radically different worldly ethics are from the Bible’s. I’d buy either argument, and since Liberty isn’t a church, I ultimately don’t really care one way or the other who speaks at their convocations.
But the administration of Liberty didn’t make the case that they were simply exposing their students to influential thinkers. Instead, they doubled down on Trump’s ethics, and actually defended them by comparing them to Jesus’ ethics. Jerry Falwell Jr. (Liberty’s Chancellor) introduced Trump by joking that the school was going to build a Trump Tower for a dorm. He closed the talk by joking that he wished the Republicans could go back and pick Trump over Romney.
Yet the school saved their most egregious statement for later. When the media focused on Trump’s comment that those who are wronged should “get even,” Trump contacted the man who oversees convocation, Johnnie Moore, who told Trump’s legal counsel (some things you just can’t make up) that indeed “Jesus would get even.” Here is the quote from Trump’s attorney as reported by ABC News:
“I conferred with Johnnie Moore at Liberty University and questioned whether Jesus would ‘get even.’ The answer is ‘he would & he did.’ Johnny explained that the bible is filled with stories of God getting even with his enemies, Jesus got even with the Pharisees and Christians believe that Jesus even got even with Satan by rising from the dead.”
Had this kind of comment come from a politician (or even a businessman), it would not be bothersome. But the fact that it comes from someone who oversees the spiritual life department of the country’s largest Christian school is very troubling.
Does God Get Even?
Moore allegedly said that the Bible is filled with stories of God getting even with his enemies. Is that true? I don’t think so. In the most base sense, God doesn’t get even with his enemies, but plunders them, and then judges them with the fires of hell. Moses didn’t simply take back pay from Egypt, but literally plundered them, while God killed their cattle, firstborns, and their entire army. So even on the tit-for-tat level, God does not “get even.”
But there is a deeper truth lost in the alleged ”get even” ethics of God. Any transgression against God is worthy of an eternal punishment. Sinning against God is not like taking candy from your sister–it can’t be made even simply by having the candy taken from you. Sinning against God necessitates an infinite punishment, and it is a debt that can never be paid. God in that sense will never “get even” with his enemies, as they will always be paying their debt to him. At no point will his wrath against sin ever be satisfied.
Except in the cross. Which leads to the second part of his statement.
Did Jesus Get Even with the Pharisees?
Moore’s statement seems to imply that while Jesus was hounded by the Pharisees throughout his life, he ended up teaching them not to mess with deity. They trapped him, but by rising from the dead he showed them. Does this count as “getting even” with them? I dont’ think so.
First, the Pharisees never ever (never!) one-upped Jesus. Throughout his life, they were stalking him, but at every single encounter with them, Jesus’ wisdom silenced them. To the crowd–whose opinion doesn’t matter–and to God, Jesus always emerged the victor. The Pharisees tried to trap Jesus with their questions, which Jesus always answered in a way that humiliated them, left them angry and silent, and sent a shock of awe through the crowd. They dared Jesus to work by healing on the Sabbath, and he healed by simply speaking a word. They quizzed him about taxes, and he asked them about the image on the coin. They asked him about grain on Saturday’s, and he asked them about David and the consecrated bread. It is not as if the Pharisees sent Jesus to the cross, and his life ended with confusion about who was superior.
Do Christians believe the resurrection was Jesus “getting even” with Satan?
I want to be quick to say that the crucifixion was humiliating. The torture that Jesus endured, the mockery, the exposure, the humiliation, and the indignity of it all was simply incomparable to anything in our world of experience. Yet while Jesus’ betrayal was brought about by Satan, Scripture makes it clear that it was not Satan who was responsible for the indignity of all that was brought on him. Rather, the fiercest blow was the one that justice gave. God himself struck his son, and that was the wound that killed him.
And in no way was the resurrection a “getting even” with God. It was not “getting even” with the devil. It was vindication, but it was not equality. It was propitiation, but it was not revenge.
I expect non-Christians to entirely fail to understand the difference between atonement and vengeance, or between Christian ethics and the ethics of the world. But I was surprised to see the leadership of Liberty defend a total misrepresentation of Christian ethics, presumably for the point of defending their choice for convocation speaker.
Yet what disturbed me most about the quote above was the squandered opportunity it represented. If a Christian school is going to have non-Christians on campus, they cannot lose sight of the goal of evangelism. And if one of those guests asks “does God get even with his enemies?” the necessity of preaching the gospel should outweigh the importance of giving an answer that seems like it was designed to put a positive spin on a public performance. I don’t know what conversations happened behind closed doors, and I don’t know how accurately ABC is reporting the content of Liberty’s ethical explanation. I hope the gospel was clearly explained off stage, and I hope that on stage Liberty will make clear to their students that God doesn’t get even–he controls the universe.
God’s interaction in the world cannot be reduced to the level of a school yard dispute. God’s control over the world is complete, his character is unassailable, and hell is eternal. All of this makes “getting even” not only outside of Christian ethics, but outside of God’s character.
UPDATE: Johnnie Moore responded to criticisms about his comments with a piece on foxnews.com. Definitely worth the read.