Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Gospel of Grace

Art rest (re-edit)Image by dhammza via FlickrIn my preparation to present the Bible book of Galatians to our Evening Prayer (go here) I have again been stunningly reminded of GOD'S outrageous grace.
St. Paul offers to his readers the now age-old decision of whether the Gospel is grace+something or grace+nothing (in his case grace+circumcision). It is difficult to argue, even from the point of view of the  "new Paul" people, that his understanding of the Gospel is anything other than grace+nothing.
 This, of course, doesn't sit too well with us. Instead of grace we would like to have a handle on GOD, thank you very much. We want to be able to read the Almighty our resume, and to be able to say, "See, here; look at this good thing that I have done. I'm really OK." But, GOD, of course, seeing beyond such prattle, peers into the deep; sees into the heart with all its crags and crevices.
Depending upon how brave one is, one can go so far as to say that faith itself is without merit when confronted with the Gospel -- we love GOD because He first loved us.
 Jacques Ellul, the French sociologist, is instructive here. In his book, Living Faith, (sadly, now out of print) he makes the point that if we have faith for what we can receive from GOD, then this is not really faith at all.
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He writes: "The really unbearable thing for us is grace, because while it is, to be sure, the expression of infinite love, it is also totally gratuitous. You can't buy it or exchange it. You can't deal for it or get the hang of it.  You'll go no where with influence, indulgences, collusion...Grace is the hardest thing for us to be reconciled to, because it implies the renouncing of our pretentions, our power, our pomp and circumstance." (pg. 151)
Then later: "If you believe in God in order to be protected, shielded, healed or saved then it's not faith, which is gratuitous. This will prove shocking, especially to Protestants, who have talked so much about salvation through faith, about faith as the condition of salvation, that they end up saying you believe so you'll be saved. But we have to keep coming back to grace and its gratuitousness. If God loves and saves humankind without asking any price, the counterpart to this is that God intends to be believed and loved without self-interest or purpose, simply for nothing. (page 163)

If the reader has persevered, and if you have done so thank you, then we are now ready for the, "so what?" The primary point is theological, of course, but it is none-the-less practical and profound. Simply put, GOD is free to act as GOD wills and is under no obligation to us other than the obligation GOD feels toward GOD'S own presence. The reason that GOD moves toward us in grace, most especially within the movement of the Christ, is within GOD'S will and way and not within us. Which ultimately means we are free as well to respond to GOD'S grace-movement as we will -- believing love or indifference or rejection. These choices matter, especially to us, but GOD takes these decisions we make and uses them to re-create the world.
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The practical implications for this are titanic. Should we pray for our safety, for example? Ellul says no. "If we live in faith -- faith in the LORD Jesus, the Messiah of Israel -- then there is no need to plead with him to save us from danger. It's enough to know that since he's there, even if danger should prove mortal, whatever God's love wishes being done will be done and will be done in us, no matter what. (Pg. 161)
This point of view creates a life gripped with meaning. Far from the doldrums of the daily grind we a part of a grand project no matter what we do as employment. Said another way, what we do here with our freedom really matters to the symphony GOD'S world building project. No matter how hidden and mundane our life, our choices, whether in family, church or community, really count, offering us the new life and the new way to live under the grace and love of the Gospel's GOD-movement.
All this means we believe GOD for nothing, expecting nothing, other than love and grace. We trust GOD no matter what happens, we act in faith and are willing to die in faith without ever seeing the outcome, knowing that GOD can be trusted well beyond where our finite minds can go, into the mystery GOD'S God-ness.
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