Friday, May 15, 2009

The Eternal Now of Grace

I've never understood the big tadoo about faith vs. works. Why are these things "vs" each other?

A mature(ing) Christian should strive to be unaware of each as separate compartments. Each act is obedience in love.

Its like loving your wife. I know I do and act like I do all at once. But I'm not thinking about either, at all. I'm thinking about her. And when I do, I'm as close to being in the eternal now of Grace that I'll ever be.

Sometimes one is more effort than the other, (I'm sure that's true more for Amber than me) but because I'm in love, (Not puppy dog stuff here, but cultivated husbands-love-and serve-your-wife stuff) most of the time, I don't have much of a choice. I love her, and that's all there is to it.

I think us greek-thinking Christians have been too darn hard on our selves for too long.

I'm a "musician." I play "music" by trade. I play in a church. But sometimes I don't. Which glorifies God? Both. But sometimes, some think that one does more than others. Why? Because of our DESPERATE need to compartmentalize. Both are obedience and both please God and myself.

Did you know that there are some tribes in Africa who don't know what "music" is? They make it all day long, but when asked about their music, they look completely perplexed. There is no word for it to compartmentalize it. It is simply a part of their communication and the joy of living. It is as natural to them as bubbling is to a brook.

But us western children of Aristotle? We've got music stores divided into THOUSANDS of musical genres.

The same thing goes for faith and works. We've got THOUSANDS of denominations, each one with a different rule book on how to better experience God by either more works or more Grace. But overall, the real separating factors between us are our different views on works vs. Grace.

Christians aren't the only ones who got all caught up in works. See, the Jews really took the works thing and made into something distorted. They got so stern about all the laws that NO ONE could POSSIBLY do them all. This is what pissed them off so bad about Jesus. He was living the law again in a way that was senergetic, a way that was both natural and supernatural to man. Sabbath made for Man, not man for the Sabbath.

So along came the early Christians and they took the "don't worry about works" thing too far and James, the brother of the Lord, came along and set things straight. You cannot separate works from acts of mercy and Grace flowing through you or visa versa. It is like separating air from the function of a lung.

But we just can't get over it, still. We love to have bible study after bible study, knocking the idea of works into the ground. Then we go lock ourselves up in a prayer closet and "get things right" so that we can FINALLY do something for our neighbor and not out of pride.

"Wait... If I help that homeless person am I doing to gain God's favor? Or did I do it because I have God's favor???"

I think that God gets quite annoyed with these questions. "Just feed the starving soul, you spoiled little idiot."

Most times, I don't think there's much time to figure all that crap out. And we've surely wasted too much time pointing fingers and sitting high in our ivory prayer towers "getting our hearts right" before we love our neighbor. When many times, the best way to experience God's grace is to do something for someone else when you are feeling very selfish.

I say that we stop altogether thinking about works vs grace and thinking about about them as extension of one another. In doing so, we start spending time with each other, and loving each other through kindness.

It is amazing how meaningless this debate is when someone you love is suffering. There is no debate. You love them and care for them. A synergetic moment. A darn-near hypostatic moment, when spirit and flesh work as they are meant to work: together all at once, sharing in the same nature, not distinctly different and in opposition, but as one.

I love the word synergetic. It means, "The interaction of two or more agents or forces so that their combined effect is greater than the sum of their individual."

Someday, we may be so lucky as to be perplexed by any question that would separate and compartmentalize Grace, faith and acts of love done in the physical now.


Chaotic Hammer said...

Love it, my friend. I really don't have anything to add -- I think you nailed it.

Seth Ward said...

Thanks, my friend.

What's strange is that any effort to stand on other side of the fence is as futile as "trying to be humble."

The spirituality of all things done or undone are only manifest in YOU when YOU are forgotten altogether. Only then is the Joy of real Love known and expressed, despite our feelings. Thank God that he uses us despite our grace/works pendulum.

"Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away." So that here through Paul's words, we know that this will always be a struggle, but what we miss is the answer! We get too busy trying to do it "right" i.e. "Wait... I'm doing this BECAUSE I've been saved..." when Love is the great equalizer of this imbalance. It is as if we try to split Love into two parts. Grace and works. Works of course the dark side. When we live in physical world as spiritual beings - these two MUST be in unity to fully express Love.

The most important verse about Christian living is our Lord's teaching, "Seek first the Kingdom of God..." But then he always talked about the Kingdom being "here."

The Lord was not unsympathetic about this problem of works and Grace. Yet he did not shy from the teaching of either. He simply reoriented them. "When you give something, drop it at the door, knock and run off with no return address. When you pray, don't do it in public...

austinbiel said...

best theology book i've read all year...


JDL Photography said...

Good point, but a little down your nose. I think your own statement could actually be applied to the very ideas of your blog entry:

"I think that God gets quite annoyed with these questions. 'Just feed the starving soul, you spoiled little idiot.' "

Perhaps he would ask you to not nit-pick and use the time you spent to write this entry serving someone else. I think someone observing those actions might be more persuaded to "love through kindness" then alternatively just reading this.

I'm just sayin' :)

Seth Ward said...

I'm a little confused... who am I nitpicking???

If you are saying that I should blog less and serve more, I wholly agree, and have blogged as such about myself. I won't go into the details of that, but the Lord has been good to me and merciful.

I was actually making the point to NOT nitpick yourself and get on with the business of engaging in acts of kindness and love.

And for the sake of argument, respectfully, if you are going to tell me to not nitpick make better use of my time than posting blogs... well... wouldn't that go for the slightly nitpicky comment you just left as well? But then, case in point! We just started a good old argument that could keep us going for weeks on end!

All in all, the blog was meant inspire to serve without the normal self-absorbed self over-evaluating that we Christians often do. The amount of time that Christians have spent arguing and bickering over works and grace is STAGGERING, in the blog world alone, not to mention all the time we spend with self-imposed guilt trips and a doing things with the constant fear of God looking over our shoulder plucking gems from our crown every time we step over the line. This is exactly what the enemy wants as it totally paralyzes us.

The fault is of course mine if that message was a failure. Apologies...

Tully519 said...

Seth – you’re message wasn’t a failure…it never is! It’s a shame that not everyone can understand that your posts are most often intended to inspire introspection so that we all might be more inclined to look within as to what really matters in life…but know that your message wasn’t lost on all. ;)

Much love as always! Nat

Jenny said...

A word about Jews getting carried away with "works". You are referring to the Pharisees, as depicted in the Gospels (we have very little knowledge of them outside the Gospels and Josephus, who doesn't talk much about this issue). It would seem that the rabbis, who succeeded the Pharisees as guardians and interpreters of the law among the Jewish people after the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple in 70 CE, shared Jesus' concern with an overly rigid or strictly works-centered notion of the law. The rabbis and the early Christians each dealt with the same problem in their own way. Jesus and Paul, followed by the early Church Fathers, stressed less (or no) importance to the practical observance of the law, while the rabbis developed a system of more flexible and practicable law, and concomitantly developed an array of more "spiritual" ideas and practices to buttress the law.

If I may, an example. Deuteronomy 6 says to speak of "these words" (namely, "You shall love the Lord your God...") "when you lie down and when you rise up". The rabbinic response was something like "OK, that's too vague; let's concretize it. Recite these verses ("You shall love the Lord your God...") twice a day - once in the morning and once at night. Of course, if you're sick or incapacitated, or, say, too nervous to concentrate because you've just gotten married and you're about to have sex for the first time [this specific issue, among others, appears in the Mishnah, a rabbinic code of the 3rd century CE], then don't worry about it." The Christian response was something like, "The point of the instruction to "speak of these words... when you lie down and rise up" is to have them on your mind and in your conversation all day long; so do that. Live your life in a way that reflects that commitment and focus." Both the rabbinic and Christian responses have great merit, and each found followers who felt that one or the other response resonated more for them.

Balancing actions and feelings has been on the minds of Jews and Christians, it would seem, for a few millennia. I agree, Seth, that we should just chill about the contrast or competition between the two and see them as complementary and conjoined - even if there are a variety of ways of navigating them. Every love relationship is different; just as every relationship to God - be it Christians and Jesus through the New Testament, or Jews and Yahweh through the Hebrew Bible - is different, and works out its needs, kinks, and manifestations differently.

Keep on bloggin' buddy!