Saturday, April 28, 2012
accounting for the unaccountable: the calculus of God’s grace
The Word for today:
Sometimes, as I’m writing these articles, I come to a passage of scripture that expresses an equation, a divine calculus, which is so supernatural that it is nearly incomprehensible to my sin-addled brain.
Here is one of those passages:
Hear, O Israel. You are now about to cross the Jordan to go in and dispossess nations greater and stronger than you, with large cities that have walls up to the sky…
After the LORD your God has driven them out before you, do not say to yourself, "The LORD has brought me here to take possession of this land because of my righteousness."
No, it is not because of your righteousness or your integrity that you are going in to take possession of their land;
It is not because of your righteousness that the LORD your God is giving you this good land to possess, for you are a stiff-necked people. (excerpted from Deuteronomy 9:1-6)
The verse means that we are not saved because of who we are. We are saved because of who He is.
Let me write it this way:
Because He is a Savior he saved me.
My personal qualities—my virtue or lack of same—are not a factor. My sin cannot stop him from saving. If you’ll allow an abridgement, the passage can be paraphrased this way:
He saves us despite --not because of -- who we are.
This principal accounts for the unaccountable mercy of God. Probably the best-known example is Judas Iscariot. Jesus offered him forgiveness as he was in the very act of betrayal (1). Judas never received it, but the offer was always on the table.
Judas never truly understood the unconditional redemption that Jesus would purchase on the cross. We can assume (because we do the same) that Judas inserted his own sinfulness into the equation, which gave rise to the despair that prompted his death.
Prayer is answered on the very same basis. God gives because he’s a giver, and not because we’ve been either naughty or nice. The “in Jesus’ name” that we tack on the end of our prayers means that God answers prayer based on who Jesus is and not on who we are.
But we for the most part just blow through the phrase in a rote and meaningless way as we are calculating whether we’ve been good enough, during the last week or so, for God to say “Yes.”
This principal also goes a long way towards explaining Samson (who is otherwise inexplicable by our calculations.) Samson played fast and loose with the Nazirite vows he was supposed to uphold. But the Spirit and power of God were upon him. Despite his shortcomings, he was conspicuously gifted.
The only thing that can explain this, for me, is that Samson truly knew, to his marrow, that God gives gifts because he is a gift giver—not because of whoever Samson was.
God saved you because of who Jesus is. God answers prayer on the basis of who Jesus is. The day we truly understand this principle—which, it seems, Judas never “got” and Samson never forgot—is the day that we get out of God’s way.
“Salvation is of the LORD,” Jonah told us (2). Note that neither you nor I are factored into the calculus of God’s grace.
(1) In a parallel betrayal, today’s reading (see Deuteronomy 9:9-21) describes the children of Israel in the act of breaking two of the Ten Commandments as they were being written. At the time they were making the molten calf, Moses was on the mountain getting the commandments. Among them were “You shall have no other gods” and “You shall not make any graven image.”
(2) Jonah 2:9