June 28, 2011

My New Understanding of Grace

So I told you that was my word of the year.  I'm still mulling it over.  I think what's happening is that God is slowly morphing my understanding of Grace into what He really wants it to be as opposed to what the Western Americanized church has taught me it is.  Interestingly enough, I don't believe He wants me to read any form of teaching on it.  I have checked out books from the library, purchased books on the subject and done searches online.  But every time I get to man's explanation of grace, I have felt strongly compelled to put it away.  So I have returned the library books, stopped books mid-chapter and clicked on the X.  And prayed.  Dug into the word, scratched notes in random places, sought His heart on the matter, asked Him to reveal His definition of Grace to this seeker.

I'm not sure what I've really been taught about grace, but I've always believed it to be God giving us things we don't deserve.  And when I think of receiving things I don't deserve, I think of good things: salvation, mercy, breath, life, children, water, loving-kindness... "Unmerited favor" is the Sunday School answer, I believe.  To me that means He likes me when He doesn't have to.  But I really believe there's more to it than that.

This is where it gets tricky.  We know that "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow," (Hebrews 13:8) and that "[Jesus] and the Father are one," (John 10:30).  In Exodus 34:5-7 we see "the Lord came down in the cloud and stood there with [Moses] and proclaimed His name, The LORD.  And He passed in front of Moses, proclaiming 'The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.  Yet He does not leave the guilty unpunished;'"  In Matthew 5: 45 "He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous."

So this God in the Old Testament who is the same yesterday, today and to the end of the ages is compassionate, gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love, and forgiving.  Yet He commanded the deaths of "innocent" children of rebellious fathers in many battles, His Earth opened up and swallowed 250 rebellious men (Numbers 26:10), He watched His Son go through unimaginable pain and descend into hades, and He told  Jeremiah to wait 70 years before His promise would be confirmed (Jeremiah 29).  None of that sounds good, merciful, or full of favor to me.

So where have we misunderstood? 

I think it's all right here.  For this is what the LORD says: "When 70 years for Babylon are complete, I will attend to you and will confirm My promise concerning you to restore you to this place. For I know the plans I have for you, plans for your welfare, not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. You will call to Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. You will seek Me  and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart. I will be found by you and I will restore your fortunes  and gather you from all the nations and places where I banished you.  I will restore you to the place I deported you from."  Jeremiah 29:10-14

It seems to me that God is making it clear that there is reason for their exile.  In this case it is discipline, but He makes it clear it's not going to be over for a while and that His people will seek Him and find Him.  He knows hardship will move us to Him.  It's not always an action of discipline, but any hardship can be responded to by drawing near to Him.  In the long run if our heart's response is desperation for Him, then the hardship seems like grace to me.  

Unmerited favor:  Because He loves me, He affords me the opportunity to come into a relationship with Him where He will change me, love me and save me.  If that's the bottom line, then anything that undergirds that greater purpose is a good thing.  So if depression, infertility, financial pressure, hurt feelings, food allergies, betrayal, heartbreak, exhaustion, and sin create in me a desperation for Him, then they are good.  When seen in light of the big picture, they are good.

So it's all grace to me.  It seems as if I have no other way to see it.


Kjirstin C said...

Such a hard thing to swallow and wrap our heads around, but such true thoughts!! I wish it didn't have to be this way, but hard circumstances do seem to be what turns me to Him more often, and for that I am grateful.

Anonymous said...

Not sure what's going on to be teaching you this. I only hope that it is less painful than the things that are teaching me the same truths. Just wanted you to know that your words encouraged a weary sister. Love ya & thanks
Michelle K

Anonymous said...

Yes!! By God's grace alone He has given me the gift of depression, tears, failure, the loss of relationships, challenging children - or just my own difficulty in being a mom. :) through the dark moments He has drawn me to Himself. I would not trade that for an easier life for one second. What you are describing is one of my biggest life lessons to date. It is also why I loved Ann Voskamp's book so much. How can God be called "good?" oh but He is!! Loneliness becomes total dependance on Him. Ashes to beauty. It is all grace.

Anonymous said...

Oh just wanted to add that I wasn't throwing in that book title as a suggestion, I know you don't care for her writing style. I was just sharing why that book was such an encouragement to me. I am learning that it is one thing to acknowledge the difficult things as grace, but it's an even bigger step of faith for me to THANK him for those things, ya know??

Melissa said...

No offense taken. ;) I actually have read some of the book and felt like God told me to put it down with the others I had started. I'd like to finish it someday. I don't prefer her style, but I can appreciate that she has a lot of wisdom to offer in the book and read it for that. I can't do that with Shakespeare, but Ann Voskamp I can handle! Anyway, I think I knew what you meant. Thanks for sharing!