Saturday, February 20, 2010

??? = grace

I was doing some reading on Calvin's concept of predestination today and came across an interesting sentence of his: "The very inequality of [God's] grace proves that it is free." Kind of backwards to how we usually think, isn't it? Most of us would say that the seeming lack of consistency and justice around us leads us to conclude that God is not fair, too much of life is unpredictable and random, and no one can make much sense of it. This volatility makes the concept of God, a God who is supposed to be in charge of the whole thing, unattractive to us, and his grace too much of a loose canon for us to bank on. However, what Calvin is saying is that the very lack of predictability points to the freedom with which God dispenses grace, his divine favour, and ultimately, life and salvation.

Though I don't follow Calvin all the way down the predestination pathway, I do acknowledge that he saw something that I as a child of the enlightenment easily miss. We expect God to be reasonable and predictable according to human standards. He can't randomly pick one person to lavish grace on and select another to fall victim to tragedy. Things just aren't done that way; it's very un-Godlike and offends our 21st century sensibilities. God must treat everyone the same, give them all an equal chance to succeed, and if punishment is to be meted out, it must fit the crime. If a person murders someone, we would expect to see the same penalty come into play every time. And if someone faithfully tries to follow Jesus, there should be certain guaranteed benefits that come along with it, results that can be depended on, right?

Alas, grace doesn't follow any of these systematic rules. These rules that would make us all sleep more soundly at night, knowing that what we could expect the next day would be the reasonable outcome of all our previous thoughts and actions. But that wouldn't be grace; that would be rule-following, the law of cause and effect, a judicial system, a scientific chain reaction, and nothing about it would be mysterious or unfathomable or beautiful or creative. It would be a world that one would expect man to construct: a place without room for deviation, error, or unexpected, surprising gifts.

Free means you cannot fence something in. You cannot tell him which way to go. You cannot build a road and demand that he never veer from it. Freedom must be free to choose what is in himself to choose. I think "free" is a very scary concept to reason, to law, and to systematic approaches. And to me, if I have to admit it.

Some days I feel on top of the world: me and God are tracking and every little prayer and need seems instantly attended to. Other days I am sure he is taking a nap or watching sports because there is no reaction to any of my crises, no matter how earnestly I plead for his intervention and look for his attention. See how I am addicted to predictability? To the straight line of action and reaction? I even try to squeeze things like faith, love, and grace into this single plane of a + b = grace.

What would happen if I really just set God free? If I stopped trying to dilute him to an equation that I could follow? What if I threw the gates wide open and let grace run wherever it wanted? Even if it galloped off to someone else? What if I let God be love instead of trying to come up with a God that I could love?

This is a photo of chained bicycles outside the Mont-Royal metro last spring.

No comments: