With Charity For All, Part 1: He Shines In All That’s Fair

But thou art merciful to all, for thou canst do all things, and thou dost overlook men’s sins, that they may repent. For thou lovest all things that exist, and hast loathing for none of the things which thou hast made, for thou wouldst not have made anything if thou hadst hated it. How would anything have endured if thou hadst not willed it? Or how would anything not called forth by thee have been preserved? Thou sparest all things, for they are thine, O Lord who lovest the living. For thy immortal spirit is in all things. Book of Wisdom 11:23-12:1

Love all of God’s creation, the whole and every grain of sand in it. Love every leaf, every ray of God’s light. Love the animals, the plants, love everything. If you love everything, you will perceive the divine mystery in things. … and you will come at last to love the whole world with an all-embracing love. Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov

A few days ago, I began a series of entries called “With Charity for All” in which I argued that Christianity has within its spiritual tradition and resources a way of being in the world that is unlike the one chosen in many cases by contemporary Christianity that emphasizes conviction over freedom, and truth over love. We need a new paradigm. That paradigm is rooted in the oldest story of them all, the story of Creation in Genesis 1.

That new paradigm has to begin with an understanding that God has – and wants to – bless all creatures and every human being. To quote an old hymn, and the title of Richard Mouw’s book, “He shines in all that’s fair.” Some of the first truths of Scripture is that God created the earth and all of its creatures, and then God called it all — including the very core nature of human beings — “good”. No matter how much violence invades the world, or how many innocent lives are taken through abortion or war, no matter how ugly our politics, no matter that we are from Red and Blue — this is the most basic reality of all human beings: we are, even the worst of us, made in the imago Dei. And it’s not only humans who reflect the beauty of God, but it is the whole creation that is the subject of God’s beauty and grace.

Both Testaments affirm that God often blesses “sinners”, that God loves the poor even when the rich resort to accusations of laziness, and that God blesses even those we view as the most undeserving. In fact, God loves to bless undeserving people (Eph. 2:8ff). If grace means anything, that’s what it means.

But Christians throughout the ages have interpreted this more narrowly to mean that God really just wants to bless those who are believers, and that those who are not are outside the realm of God’s serendipitous grace (as if God quit loving them). All kinds of atrocities in the name of religion have resulted from people of faith who felt they had a handle on who God was blessing and who God was not (for example, I listen in horror as some pray in our churches for our troops but do not pray for innocent Iraqis). Much of this could be averted if we returned to that simple of truth of Genesis 1: God actually is in business to bless everyone. God’s blessing is not subject to my approval. God wants to bless evangelicals and Catholics, Mormons and Muslims, Baptists and Buddhists. As we often say at the beginning of the Eucharist each Sunday morning — a gift wrongly interpreted as only for the church rather than for the world — “the grace of God is upon the world”.

The idea that God continues to bless all of the world, and not just believers or the church alone, was a core concept of Reformed doctrine. In 1924, the Christian Reformed Church, then a denomination of immigrant Dutch Calvinists, officially declared “that there is indeed a … non-salvific attitude of divine favor toward all human beings.” While “saving grace” is imparted only to the elect, this “common grace” manifests itself in three ways: “the bestowal of natural gifts, such as rain and sunshine, on all creatures,” “the restraining of sin in human affairs,” and “the ability of unbelievers to perform acts of civic good.” The sunshine, the good acts of government to restrain evil, and the mercy of God upon unbelievers are all examples of common grace. Scripture is even replete with examples of God speaking His own words through the most unlikely of people like Ahaz, foreign rulers and Roman soldiers.

Common grace opens us up to a new way of being in the world. We do not look so hard to find out who is excluded, but we pray diligently that all (even us) will be included. Our labors will be given to ensuring that all know they are the object of God’s affection, and not the target of God’s wrath. Our churches will work harder to support artists and scientists, Christian and nonChristian,whose work allows us to see the beauty and majesty of God’s presence in “all that’s fair”. We will spend more time in contemplation of beauty and less time in renouncing evil. We would lift up those who stand for justice in government and truth in entertainment rather than write them off as part of the evil cultures of Hollywood and Washington. Hollywood and Washington are the subject of God’s common grace too, and we might just discover beauty and truth there if we can open our eyes to see it.

Life is actually fun when we lay down the need to see evil everywhere and open ourselves up to see goodness everywhere. As the movie “Life is Beautiful” shows, beauty can be found anywhere, and God’s grace and presence will often surprise you because it will show up in the most unlikely of people, and in the weirdest places. Even with Palin loving Republicans, even with those socialist Democrats, even with gay people, and even with Muslims.

It really is one of the most fundamental questions of belief: Do you believe God is blessing all the world or only those who believe? Or perhaps only those who agree with you?

To quote St. Paul in Colossians 1:

“15He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. 17He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. 19For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.”

There is no one and no place that is apart from the presence of God, even in death. That is the most basic meaning of “gospel”.

God’s grace is upon the world. Can you see it?

One Response to “With Charity For All, Part 1: He Shines In All That’s Fair”
  1. awesomenshvlguy says:

    Great post! Ephesians 2 is by far one of my very favorite passages because it gives me hope and assurance that God loves us and blesses us, even with our terrible, wretched, sinful lives. Have you read the Ragamuffin Gospel? You sound a lot like Brennan Manning.Scott

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