Grace: Week 2
Tuesday, February 2, 2016
The idea of grace first develops in the Hebrew Scriptures through the concepts of election, or chosenness, and is finally called “covenant love” because it becomes a mutual giving and receiving. This love is always initiated from YHWH’s side toward the people of Israel, and they gradually—very gradually—learn to trust it and respond in kind, just like each of us. The Bible shows a relentless movement toward the actual possibility of intimacy and divine union between Creator and creatures. For this to happen, there needs to be some degree of compatibility, likeness, or even “sameness” between the two parties. In other words, there has to be a little bit of God in us that wants to find itself. (Yes, read that again!)
We see the message of implanted grace most clearly in Jesus. He is able to fully recognize that he is one with God. Jesus seems to know that it is the God part of him who does the deep knowing, loving, and serving. He seems able to fully trust his deepest identity and never doubts it, which is probably the unique character of his divine sonship. We doubt, deny, and reject our sonship and daughterhood much of the time. Humans find it hard to believe in things we did not choose or create ourselves. Such unaccountable gratuity is precisely the meaning of grace and also why we are afraid to trust it. “I am not the source,” the ego says, “so it cannot be happening.” Yes, it is God in you that always seeks and knows God; like always knows like. We are made for one another from the beginning (Ephesians 1:4-6). Maybe the ultimate grace is to fully know that it is entirely grace to begin with! It is already a grace to recognize that it is grace.
In Deuteronomy, God says to Israel, “If YHWH set his heart on you and chose you, it was not because you were greater than other peoples. In fact, you were the least of all the peoples. It was for love of you and to keep the covenant that he swore to your fathers and mothers that YHWH has brought you out with his mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery” (7:7-8).
This passage and the continuation of this same pattern throughout Scripture emerges as the supreme theme of grace, which is concretely taught by Paul. In fact, I would call it the theme of themes. God does not choose to love the Israelites, anybody else, or us today because we are good. God loves us from a completely free, deliberate, and arbitrary choice. This recognition is the engine that drives the entire divine drama. Without it, we have nothing but sterile requirements and rituals. From the very beginning, receiving God’s love has never been a “worthiness contest.” This is very hard for almost everyone to accept. It is finally a surrendering and never a full understanding. The proud will seldom submit “until they are brought down from their thrones,” as Mary put it (Luke 1:52). It just does not compute inside our binary, judging, competing, and comparing brains.
God does not love you because you are good; God loves you because God is good. And then you can be good because you draw upon such an Infinite Source. The older I get, the more I am sure that God does all the giving and we do all of the receiving. God is always and forever the initiator in my life, and I am, on occasion, the half-hearted respondent. That’s just true! My mustard seed of a response seems to be more than enough for a humble God, even though the mustard seed is “the tiniest of all the seeds” (Matthew 13:32).
Yes, God is both very humble and very patient, if everything we see about the universe is true. God makes use of everything that we offer and seems most grateful for the smallest bit of connection or response from our side. Otherwise it would not be a covenant (mostly unilateral), but a mere coercion. God “does not want slaves but friends” (John 15:15). And it only gets better: God even creates the desire within us to do the desiring for love and for God. So all we need to do is to keep praying for the desire to desire, especially on those many days when the well feels dry, ordinary, or boring.
Gateway to Silence:
Everything is grace.
Adapted from Richard Rohr, Things Hidden: Scripture as Spirituality (Franciscan Media: 2007), 163-164.