Guilt, Gratitude, Grace, and Eating Dirt
May 28, 2009 by Don Payne | 0 Comments
Last evening’s BBC World News ran a story about the diet of many children in
This raises more issues than any single blog, book, or budget can address. Yet, anyone with a modicum of conscience (which is about all I have at times) can hardly face such a tragic circumstance without experiencing a measure of sourness at the injustices and brokenness of our world. One strange feature of that injustice is that people like me can walk away from these visceral stories and, after a bit of time and a good cup of coffee, functionally forget about it. In fact, I write this while sitting in a really cool coffee shop with upbeat music playing in the background and fun people all around me. What makes it all even worse is that today is my wedding anniversary and I'm filled with joy and gratitude for twenty-eight years with the same wonderful woman!
Yes, after taking in that gut-wrenching story Haitian story from yesterday’s evening news, we awoke to a day of celebration, enjoying a gorgeous drive to Evergreen for brunch at one of our favorite restaurants. A walk around
When wrestling with this and similar dilemmas over the years, I have been thrown back, not to a philosophical theodicy (an attempt to reconcile suffering and evil with God’s sovereignty and goodness), but to the theology of grace. It takes a working theology of God’s grace for any of us to genuinely enjoy and celebrate life while facing the stark realities of human suffering without turning aside or anesthetizing ourselves.
Grace alone can free us to engage and make whatever difference we can make without the burden of long term, sustained progress. Grace alone can allow us to receive the gifts of our own lives, whatever those may be, without feeling a measure of guilt for being born into conditions where we don’t have to eat dirt to survive. By grace alone, sola gratia, as the Reformers insisted, are we saved. Grace saves us in a lot of ways – every way that really matters, even if we spend our lives puzzling over that and exploring it.
I’m captured today by one particular aspect of that salvation. I’m saved from the burden of explaining the world and its brokenness. I’m saved from the burden of saving the world. I’m saved for engagement with the worst that can be experienced, as an agent of God’s grace, whatever God does with my little part. I’m saved for receiving and reveling in God’s gifts as tokens of His goodness and without the pressure to reconcile “Why me?” I’m saved from guilt for having it so much better than so many others.
Without this particular expression and function of grace, the moral structure of the world continues to work against me, chipping away at my spirit in the name of God, eroding my ability to love and trust God in a world I often can’t explain or change or even face.
A developed or developing Christian conscience will easily lead us into a particular form of seriousness about the world. That seriousness can indeed stimulate powerful and important action but easily masquerades for godliness when it ultimately and insidiously works against the very life that Jesus died to give. Perhaps it’s a contemporary version of the spirit Paul battled in the form of Jewish Christians who sought to return to the Law (see Eugene Peterson’s reflections on Galatians in his book Traveling Light).
We err grievously if we polarize God’s command to care sacrificially for the broken with the capacity for exuberant celebration and enjoyment of life. Those may seem incompatible at times. Only by grace, a sheer act of God’s initiative and unexplainable goodness, can we navigate that tension, “traveling light” with a sober and realistic and engaged spirit. That type of grace-ful seriousness frees us to hurt and grieve and engage intensely. It also frees us to receive good coffee and walks around the lake without jadedness.
Easier said than done? Indeed. But having said it, I want more than ever to do it. So, may God bless the children of