Monday, June 15, 2009

Part II of Grace: Who Needs It?

To the praise of the glory of his grace wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved. (Ephesians 1:6)
Grace is like my second child, a gift I didn't even know I wanted until I held her in my arms. Like grace, I didn't deserve her; I hadn't earned any "best mother of the year" awards through my first born, now 18, filled with her own doubts and desires, for and against the Lord. As motherhood gives a woman new eyes, grace shifts perspective, like coming up from viewing the world under water; clearly, with greater appreciation, and a deep sense of urgency to breath in life, one that is clean and righteous. It was time to confess and repent, the first steps to releasing God's grace.
There are so many stigmas attached to words these days, phrases have become loaded, weapons used to draw us in or push us away. The words "confess" and "repent" are layered with meaning, most negative in a society that favors prideful and rebellious ways. (Any argument against the thought that we have become a prideful and rebellious nation requires a separate discussion that cannot be addressed here without going off on a tangent, so let's assume this much at least: American society is at a height of dysfunction, and pride and rebelliousness are two spirits that are at the root.) The notion of confessing and turning away from our sins seems trite in such a society as this, laughable even. When bad is good, shame is obsolete. No shame, no sin, no need to think of ourselves in any other way but decent, good enough, or at least better than most.
I believe I’m a good person, as most people do, but this belief is misleading. First, it assumes that my standards for goodness are the same as God’s standards. This is a problem most Christians have: we assign the character of our human nature to a supernatural God. We limit God to the smallness of our imagination, as if God is the magnification of the greatest human goodness. In truth, God is beyond our capacity to imagine, as is his goodness.
Not only do we fall terribly short of God's goodness, we are arrogant and prideful when we presume our goodness is greater than our iniquity, that any deviation is merely contextual, as in “I was just having a bad day.” If this were the case, why would we ever need to confess and repent? If we are as good as we say we are, why would we need forgiveness? None of it would be necessary, thus mercy and grace would be equally superfluous. Yet, instinctively, whether one is a believer or not, a person must admit that she has done wrong as some point in her life, and if we're counting thoughts and words along with deeds, then those points would surely add up!
I think the tendency to withdraw from seeing ourselves as bad is quite innocent at first. Few want to be accused of wrong-doing, nor do most of us intentionally degrade and condemn ourselves. If I were to admit I was a shameful, contemptible woman, guilty of committing unspeakable acts, worthy only of solitary confinement in the lowest pit of hell, one might be deeply concerned about my mental health - and rightly so. Low self-esteem can be as damning as any carnal sin. This is not, however, what repentance is about. Far from it!
I have been taking a foundations course through my church and within just a few weeks, I have learned several important distinctions in the notion of repentance. First and foremost, to repent is to turn away from that which separates us from God. It is to acknowledge a need for change. My notes from the class read: "It is an inner matter, an inward action of the soul." Repentance is not based on man-made systems of judicial order where one is accused and condemned. Accusation and condemnation are tools of the enemy used to conjure guilt and remorse. These spirits lead to hopelessness, even despair. They are destructive and cause us to turn against ourselves and pull away from God out of fear. Repentance does the exact opposite; it causes us to turn away from sin and draws us to God and his grace.
To Be Continued....

Monday, June 8, 2009

Grace: Who Needs It?

"It is by grace you have been saved." Ephesians 2:5, 8.

Saved Through Grace by Faith is a common slogan printed on colorful t-shirts and worn by Christians of diverse denominational background. Grace as a spiritual concept is particular to Christianity, it's Greek word charis is found for the first time in the New Testament. Grace is a belief that though we are creatures born wicked, we are saved from condemnation; a mercy given by God through Christ. In order to embrace this belief, however, one must first accept that we are, in fact, a wicked people.

No one wants to believe he is wicked. It is more common to think that though we may sometimes make poor choices, we are not bad people. Herein lies the problem we face with receiving God's grace: in order to receive it, we must accept that we need it; that we are people of iniquity who must make a conscious effort to always do the right thing.

Post-modernism has managed to convince the average citizen that there is a social-psychological reason for every bad deed we do. Long story short, we are not responsible, nor should we be held accountable for our behavior. We had a difficult childhood, one in which we were isolated, emotionally, sexually, and/or physically abused. We were misinformed, miseducated, misunderstood. We were born into an unjust society, marginalized, ostracized, disenfranchised. We have a family history of alcoholism and/or drug abuse, it’s our mother’s neglect, our father’s absence. We suffer from toxic stress, economic oppression, a chemical imbalance or disorder, bi-polar, manic depression, compulsive obsession. Even daily living is reason enough to excuse us from our nasty selves.

If the individual can justify her behavior, then a country may not even have to provide explanation for its wickedness: a nation must do whatever is necessary to preserve the welfare of its people. The means necessary is open to subjective suggestion, national welfare can range in distribution, and which population of people is served is based on the ruling party’s own volition. As leading nations are abdicated from liability, its people follow by example. In other words, what is right is relative to the general times, current leadership, and the most persuasive opinion.

Moral conviction is now an outside intruder, self-righteously imposing it’s judgment on society, (and almost certainly pushed by right-wing conservative bible-thumpers, an easy label that at once dismisses and condemns anyone who might stand up for a belief that is centered on spiritual principals.) What remains is a more accepting, inclusive pluralist society in which I’m okay and you’re okay and it’s all good. Who could ask for anything more? Further, why do we need grace at all?

To Be Continued…..