Don’t call it “grace”
Well, I didn’t make it to the end of the month. Below is part of a conversation I had with i-Monk about “grace” and “law” or commands of Jesus; but at least on this occasion we’re not agreeing! I think the concepts are truly fascinating. You can read the full thread here. The last paragraph from i-Monk is the most intriguing:
i-Monk: So here’s today’s question: “What are some examples you’ve heard or read of Good News Gospel texts in scripture being turned into lessons, examples, moralism, advice, demands, guilt trips, shouldas and ought tos, in other words, LAW?”
[after several somewhat anti-nomian (commands are bad) comments]
Me: The question is inherently problematic because it creates the impression that anything involving a command or inviting our response–even from Jesus!–is something unworthy of being called “grace;” it’s LAW (to be read with a heavy, disdainful tone). That belittles Jesus, as the one who spoke many of these commands, or makes parts of him “good news” and other parts something darker. Everything Jesus did and said is part of what God is doing for us–it’s all grace towards us. It’s all good news, even if parts of it upset us, even the commands. Jesus’ commands to us don’t merely condemn us. That is not their only function and certainly not Jesus’ intent–he’s a king leading his people. Giving commands are part of what God has done for us–motivated entirely by goodwill–telling us what to do, how to approach life the way he does–because we honestly don’t know apart from him telling us. We are like sheep without a shepherd. The fact that God is still willing to give us leadership and guidance, that he is willing to be our shepherd–this is good news; it is grace, even if it’s grace we don’t want or like sometimes. Even if we need more grace to do what he says. Even though we need grace for messing it up and falling short of the commands. If we’re commissioned to make disciples, teaching them to do everything Jesus commanded, are we being mean or helpful when we do that? Part of what God has done for us is give us his great insight about what’s really good, what’s worth pursuing, what’s best to leave behind.
i-Monk: The Law doesn’t LIE. It just can’t make us LIVE. It can tell us the right direction. But it can’t make us want to go or to go SUFFICIENTLY for life or eternity or relationship with God. It’s like grammar school. It’s not lying to you. But it’s not how we live. Teachers smacking our hands with rulers is not what God wants.
Me: I hope you can see my point; I think now I see more of yours (from your sermon titles below). I agree that giving the command alone isn’t sufficient, but that’s not the only form of grace we’re given (thank God), not even close. But that doesn’t mean that it’s something other than grace when Jesus tells the adulterous to go and sin no more, or tells the rich young ruler to sell & give, or tells us to love each other, etc. etc. I don’t think Jesus was a teacher smacking our hands with a ruler when he gave us the commands he gave. I’d hate to give anyone the impression that his commands are anything but grace to us, even if they are by no means the only grace to us.
i-Monk: Calling “commands” grace is going to be an issue. You can call them true, helpful, etc. but grace by definiton is a God action to us unilaterally. You can find another way to say the Law is good without saying the law is grace. You wind up saying works = faith or obedience = faith and then you just joined the RCC.
I think that’s truly fascinating. Please understand, too, that Michael (i-Monk) isn’t equating RCC (Catholicism) to heresy–his wife is now Catholic as are many others he would call friends, so that wasn’t an insult, just a distinction of doctrine and camp, in his view. I always thought of “grace by definition” as something God (or someone else) gives to us that we have no right to demand, but that is given out of sheer kindness. Therefore, when Jesus tells us, in essense: “Eye for an eye is no way to live. Don’t give tit-for-tat to people who are mistreating you. Be kind to them, just like your Father in heaven is kind to ungrateful and evil people.” Him telling us that, giving us that insight about God and how to live–grace, no? Even by Michael’s definition (a God action to us unilaterally), it still seems like grace for God to let us in on how to deal with difficult people, on how God routinely deals with them, which is with sincere love and goodwill. Do we have the right to have Jesus come to earth and give us all these insights? Not that I’m aware. It’s a gift. It’s part of God’s kindness. Or, from God’s standpoint, was he not being gracious in telling us? What is exactly is God’s leadership, his parenting, if not grace?
I gotta tell ya, I’m kinda stumped! Even if the RCC agrees with me on this point, they certainly disagree with me on many others, even as they are today (let alone when they were selling indulgences), though I gladly call them brothers and sisters. So I doubt I actually would fit in that camp very neatly at all. But it’s odd. Nowhere am I suggesting that we can earn anything from God, in fact, quite the opposite, I’m saying that even when Jesus tells us to love one another, he is doing so as an act of grace (undeserved kindness), like when I tell my daughter to stay away from the road. Who knew? Apparently taking a broader view of grace makes me a Catholic. C’est la vie! Maybe the Reformation is finally over. My dad will be glad to hear it.