By debts, in this case, I mean all the emotional prices humans are called to pay. Each is natural, as seen by their commonality across socio-economic, religious and racial strata. The binding force for them all, the Overcomer, if you will is grace. Examine the debts we pay, the toll life extracts from us along the way and you start to see the extreme necessity of grace; unconditional love, unmerited favor, peace-giving and personal serenity that comes from doing the right thing for the right reason.
My Philosophy professor used to say that the nature of God is not love only. To limit God to love is a natural attempt to make God our friend, only, when we need to have Someone Other. He would say the nature of God is:
Love-Agape love, which is peculiarly Christian, no matter how fallible the Christians themselves. Agape love is other than brotherly love (phileo) and, while participant with physical affection and passion (eros), is still more and other than the usual kinds of love, in order to offer grace. Brotherly love assumes similarity, while erotic love demands a certain attraction. Both are natural and each is good. Agape love is something more and other than love for that which is similar and attractive. Agape love is love for the Offender in Each of Us. Christian love is extended to “each of these, the least of my brethren.” This is at the end of a long list of cultural undesirables.
Service-Here my old professor would point us to Mark 10:45, the Servant Passage, which is thence to set us right on why Jesus is come into the world at all. The Christ is present in the world as Jesus of Nazareth, “not to be served, but to serve, and thus give his life as a redeeming price for many.”
If we take the Service Passage seriously, and even most professing Christians do not, there must be something remarkable about His life. His life, His life alone, in solitary fashion, is freely offered as a redeeming price for many. Why is He worth so much? How is able to redeem? Who needs redemption, anyway, since we are all alike and we are all muddling through the best way we can muddle?
Yet, here He is, the Eternal Christ, the Savior, the Redeemer, the Servant. He is here to offer grace, which costs Him His valuable life. To surrender to grace (to Him) is costly, as well. Surrender, obedience, is vulnerability, is weakness. Therefore, submission to grace does not fit our cultural order. We must swim upstream to have it.
Other-Centeredness-This concept is so foreign it does not even prove acceptable on my computer’s auto-correct. I have to hit “Ignore Suggestion” to keep the red line off my screen, the better to keep my OCD from full operational status.
I like this, though, that Christian Other-Centeredness is a foreign concept to my machine, to my culture and so often, to me. I get myself cleaned up each morning, dress myself, consult my schedule, drive my car, feed my face, check my accounts, go to my house at the end of the day. Marriage and family are misunderstood sacraments, since they do what sacraments are meant to do, which is introduce us to grace. To some extent, at least, marriage and family make the My into Our, so to cast us on the troubled waters of Other-Centeredness. But we don’t enter into marriage like we did or family as we should, so our introduction to grace is even more marginalized.
Churches are even more crony-like. Fewer people attend church, temple or synagogue any more, so grace is more distant still. The moral fabric of our culture is not straining to burst because of a lack of commonality, only, I do not mean that. I do mean agreed values being lesser, our need of grace is greater.
Utter-Self Giving-This tears it, right? Not only should I love unconditionally, serve redemptively, center myself in the collective whole, but I also must utterly give in a culture bent on accumulation. To do otherwise paints me the naif, the easy mark, the sheep set for shearing and sure to end as someone’s mutton. I can only hope to be euthanized painlessly.
It is so hard to be a Christian. Jesus taught cost-counting, as it used to be called. He knew it would be hard to meet His standards and live in this world. We have to have grace, for ourselves and others, when what we want most at the end of the day is to have one more dollar than we totally need and the promise of another for tomorrow. We want to be left alone.
Grace, however, will not let us be. If the Catholic writer Greeley is accurate, the better description for God’s pursuit of humankind is “love-crazed.” No one could take this kind of rejection easily. To love on in the face of, well, murdered loved ones, must mean the pursuer is totally engaged or just plain mad. Yet, God keeps on keeping on after us.
Love, Service, Other-Centeredness, Utter Self-Giving; the description(s) of God my old Philosophy Professor dared us to spend a life time observing. How can we describe God as One, then talk about God as Three? Perhaps in the same way the now oft maligned Apostle Paul describes the Fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22) as singular, then gives nine words to describe such Fruit. He reminds us, then, that all human language about God, as about art, is accommodational only. Grace is multi-faceted, almost beyond our description, just beyond our reach, assimilated only by a divine delivery system mated with a human faith.
Human faith being what it is (you decide) our assimilation of divine grace may be described as “interrupted.” Still, it is the most important asset of true, undefiled religion. I suppose I could use it, grace and undefiled religion, but I do not always want either or demonstrate any. Human faith, being what it is, wants what it wants at the moment, a trait I notice growing more intense as I age. I have to strain for grace through the fading light. Such is this life and it is not so bad, after all, or we would not fight so hard to keep to it, or cry so bitterly when it ends.