Sunday, June 16, 2013

Grace from the foundation of the world

The usual disclaimer in posts which mention Genesis and creation: I offer these comments hoping they are helpful regardless of whether the reader views that as historic or symbolic, because either way it is food for thought.  

Among Christians, it seems generally agreed that God loved the world at its creation, and has loved the world from its foundation. That's directly on topic when it comes to God's grace, so let's take a closer look.
Grace is established in the act of creation

God's goodwill towards creation was not an afterthought. In its natural state, the world is good. God intended creation to be good, and he created it to be good, and then he recognized it as good. Now anyone who makes or creates does that by bringing things out of themselves. As Jesus said on another occasion: The one who is good out of the treasures of his heart brings forth what is good. In the same way, out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks -- or the mind imagines and speaks and creates. So creation's goodness is a natural outcome of God's goodness. God's goodwill towards creation comes from his own goodness: it was from the original treasures of his goodness that he created, which caused the natural goodness of what he has made. That is to say: God's grace towards the world is established in the act of creation.

Grace is the natural order of things

It follows that God's goodwill towards what he made -- grace -- is the natural order of things. "Grace" and "nature" are not meant to be separate. While "nature" speaks of the things and their natural workings, "grace" speaks of their natural relationship to their creator. From the original state of creation, it is a mistake to think that nature is lacking something unless grace is added to it, as if this adding was an uncertain outcome, as if grace was not part of the act and purpose of creation. Instead, nature is intended to exist in God's grace, and it was created in God's grace. In the same way, we should not think that human nature in the original state of creation is lacking something unless grace is added to it. Again, grace is the intended natural state, and the lack of grace is the unnatural state.

So the desire for grace permeates the world

In this imperfect world, the idea of creation can seem distant to us. Still, in every good thing, and so often in the natural world, we catch a glimpse of that undiluted goodness, that undiminished glory that reminds us of how things might be. Every good thing draws us and calls us back towards our original state of grace. Every good thing is, then, a preparation for grace.

Even the bad that we experience is a sharp reminder of what we wish we had, a call to return to what is good. Every loss, every fear, every worry, every hurt directs us to look back to what we lost, or forward to what we might regain. Every petty or hateful thought that runs through our minds, every unkind word or even cruel action, causes us shame for what we have become, and calls us to pray to God to create in us a clean heart. We live in a world where day by day things steadily increase this restlessness and desire. As Augustine once said, "Our hearts are restless until they rest in You." This restlessness, this longing for grace, is a constant part of our world, part of the human experience. Because of all this, there is a general tendency of things to turn our thoughts toward God. Life contains a steady stream of occurrences that prompt us to look for God.

And the promise of grace permeates our hopes

We do not think of paradise as lost beyond hope. We look forward to paradise as the intended future. From early times, religion has spoken not only of the breach between heaven and earth, but also of its restoration. There has been a promise of reconciliation between heaven and earth, God and man. To greater or lesser extent, this thought is found in every religion that I have yet reviewed. In each faith there is the promise of renewal or paradise or reunion with the infinite. Sometimes that promise also looks for some great future man of God or presence of God in the world. In the Jewish faith with its deep and nourishing visions of paradise, we find the promise of the coming kingdom of God linked to the hope of the Messiah who will bring restoration to the world.

Religion exists in part to keep human hope alive. These hopes take firmer shape wherever the promises of the prophets are read and studied. And now, for roughly 2000 years, we have celebrated how those early promises have made their actual beginnings in our world in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, in his healing and in his teaching and most of all in his resurrection. What happens in Jesus is directly connect to both our primal thoughts of a world without corruption, and our persistent longing for a future where that world is realized. But what grounds do we have for thinking about this promise of grace as reality?

Paul once said that God has given faith* (or proof* or assurance*, if you'd rather) to all by raising Jesus from the dead. In his resurrection, we have God's open, on-the-record demonstration to the world of the reality of those promises, the reality of the hope to which we are called.

And it is our part to hold out the promise of hope and renewal to the world. Starting from Jesus' resurrection, we have the message he sent us to proclaim of repentance and forgiveness in his name. Everyone can know the reality of that hope. We have the honor of explaining God's love for the world, his faithfulness to what he has made, and the redemption that has begun in Jesus.

* This is the topic of the next post, already written and posting immediately after this one, looking into the relationship between grace and faith.


Martin LaBar said...

Well done. I saved this for future reference.

Weekend Fisher said...

Now that's a high compliment. Thank you!

Take care & God bless
Anne / WF