We are in the middle of another Reformation. Whether you know it or not, your pastor or priest does. The theological world is in flux, and there is a massive shift beneath our feet. Theology is, after all, a landscape to wander in. (Thank you, Guide Rowan Williams.)
Grace is not a thing.
The Reformation was built around an assumption built in Thomas Aquinas. That assumption is that grace is a thing. The argument was under what conditions the thing is given, earned, or exchanged for something else.
The problem is that grace is not a thing. It is the character of God. Read Jesus carefully. God forgives. God is merciful. God is consistently compassionate. You are not, but God is. God’s character is grace.
Grace is charis and that means gift in English. A gift is given. It is not earned or payed for. This is essential to the definition. And this fits with both the descriptions of God in Jesus and with the demands of Jesus of his disciples.
The essence of Jesus is that God has grace and wants you to treat others with grace. You have been given freely the life and blessings and freedom you have, and you are expected to give freely or you won’t continue to receive freely. This is a big deal that is rarely talked about on the grace side of the argument. The Reign of God is only operative where we, the reigned, act as if we are reigned. We must be the children of our Father in the Heavens in order to be his children.
God’s character is to love God’s children. This only makes sense. The problem we have is that God loves all of the children. So if one harms a child, then God is angry and may cut us off from his presence, his blessing, his peace. God is merciful, but God also demands that we be merciful.
So. We are currently coming to terms with this simple shift, but simple can be terrible. Earthquakes are generally simple.
The theological world is shifting as we come to terms with fundamental understandings of how God then is understood.
God loves you and wants you to be an heir to the Reign and bear the image of God in the world, so the Son incarnates God in the world to open the gates of the covenant wide, teach the way of God, and take our sins and separation onto himself and reunite us with God through the indwelling of his Spirit. This is all done so that you can go into the world to bring that grace to others. As you do that you enter the divine life.
That life is in the Way of God. Your work, or at least my work, is to become more like God, to have God’s grace by reflex in any situation. I am not a natural at this. I have to work at it.
Then I get a little bit of it. I love someone. Maybe my child or spouse or some kindly lady in the next pew. But along comes some new person. Take the lady who lost the child in the terrible neighborhood because she made a mistake that she didn’t know was even there and let her child be exposed to chemicals or bad food, who is morbidly obese and undernourished at the same time because she lives in a neighborhood where the food is degraded to the point that though she overeats she is underfed and slowly being destroyed by the systems that I help create and sustain.
What do I do to love her? I mean, Lord, if you call me to love her, I do not know how. I can barely handle loving my wife whom I have great affection and desire for. So thank you very much, I will keep the God of the tribe I belong to who needs me to pray in the ways I have been taught, that feel natural because they are what I already know, and who gives me comfort because I am nice to the lady in the next pew and fill in the right blanks on the check I write to the Temple.
Of course I am not satisfied by the god I can control. That god is not a person, not the God of the Bible, nor the Father in the Heavens. When you begin to see the God of Jesus, nothing else will fill the longing in your soul.