Nice isn’t good; mean isn’t bad.
There. I said it.
You’ve long suspected my heresy. Now you have proof in black and white.
But it’s true. Nice isn’t good and our unshakeable conviction that it is, is making us bad.
Let me explain what I mean. Imagine you’re walking down the street and you see a guy manhandling a woman. You have several options. One of your options is to be nice. Nice might do a number of things under these circumstances. It might look away awkwardly and tell itself that the matter is between them. It might offer her a sympathetic glance; the proverbial “be warmed and filled.” It might even, in it’s more courageous expressions, approach the man and ask him to be nice. The thing nice cannot do in such a circumstance is be good. Goodness demands anger in such circumstances. And it demands that we take sides.
So here we are.
Nice isn’t necessarily good. Mean isn’t necessarily bad.
Is that biblical?
“But that’s not a biblical argument.” I would argue that it is. Since when is goodness not a fundamental priority in Scripture? Still, let me address this in Scripture. First, where does Scripture say to be nice? You’re probably scanning your memory and coming up with lots of times. Like when it says to be kind. And to love And to be generous. And to be merciful. And gracious. But what I suspect you’re realising about now is that Scripture never enjoins us to niceness.
Let me say that again. Scripture never—not one time—tells us to be nice.
But it does tell us to be angry. It does tell us to be righteous. It does tell us to hate evil. It does tell us to hate—hate—oppression.
Jesus said that he came to divide homes; to break relationships; to shatter unity. How? By making people obnoxious jerks? No. By making people good. And good people will wreak havoc on the operations of evil people. That’s not nice. But it is good.
Jesus, on two separate occasions, threw the money-changers out of the temple. With a whip. That’s not nice. But it was good.
Jesus tore strips off the Pharisees time and again. He was savage. He publicly humiliated them and exposed them for the wicked frauds they were. That’s not nice. But it was good.
Jesus was not nice to the woman at the well. He confronted her sin directly and explicitly. That’s not nice. But it was good.
Paul called out the false teachers of his day in the harshest of terms. That’s not nice. But it is good.
Nice vs. kind
If you’re like most people, by this time you’re thinking something along the lines of: “True. He seems to have a point. But Jesus was also very nice. A lot.”
True. He was. The reason is not that niceness is good. It’s not. The reason is that kindness is sometimes nice. And niceness is not bad. At least not always. Niceness is bad when it is unkind. Kindness requires me to stand up to bullies; to hate sin; to reject that which will damage and harm others.
Giving my children an endless supply of ice cream is very nice. But it is not kind. So that’s a case of niceness being bad because it is not kind. Giving my children discipline because they are misbehaving is not nice, but it is kind. So that’s a case of “meanness” being good because it is kind.
Kindness is not always nice. Niceness is not always kind.
Kindness is commanded by God. Niceness is nice, but optional.
A world with no enemies
How did we get to the point of thinking that niceness is a Christian virtue? I don’t know exactly but I suspect pluralism is part of the story. We live in a world that has forgotten the importance of having enemies.
If I shocked you with my opening statement, I’ll probably surprise you again with this statement: A man with no enemies is probably not a good man.
Remember the woman getting manhandled by the man on the street? I can’t be kind to her without being mean to him. Nor can I be kind to him without being mean to him. I’ve met that guy on a number of occasions and can tell you that if you step in, you’re almost certainly going to make an enemy. In such a case niceness is bad; meanness is good. And kind. And for some of us, that means rethinking just about everything.
But rethink we must.
Grace to you.