Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Always Grace

"It was always grace for sinners‐grace shown to His enemies‐grace in the light of which man can only stand and acknowledge himself a transgressor, and therefore unworthy of it. The Son of Man from heaven had to be the friend of publicans and sinners, and die between two thieves. He had to, because God was already the God who loved His enemies, who “endured such contradiction of sinners against himself” ( Heb. 12:3)"
-Karl Barth

So, I was just rereading the relatively short portion of Karl Barth's works that I have on hand (I'm thinking about buying the full 800+ page portion that my small piece is taken from) when I stumbled upon this quote. I've read it before, and I have no doubt that I'll read it again, because I just love it. It points out some things that we, living after Christ has come, tend to forget. We know that we live in an age of Grace. We know (hopefully) that, when Christ came, certain fundamental aspects of Creation were changed. Paul himself talks about this change, demonstrating the difference between Grace and Law. We know all of this.

However, in comparing our current age of Grace to the previous age of Law, I think we sometimes go too far. We forget something that Karl Barth here points out. We forget that the fundamental, unchanging policy of God, even during the age of Law, beginning with the very first sin of Adam and Eve and continuing now and forever, is this--Grace towards sinners. We get so excited about the Grace that we now live under that, when we look at the Old Testament, we see only the Law and not the Grace that is the very foundation of everything God has done for us. We see only the Law of the 10 commandments, and we forget the grace with which God heard his children crying out and rescued them. Yet even as I think about that example, I think that even that obviously gracious action is a secondary effect of Grace. Grace is indeed the foundation and bedrock from which everything, even the Law, comes from. Barth points out that "The God of the Old Testament rules amongst his enemies... it is an unfaithful people to whom he gives and maintains his faithfulness." Yes, God does give harsh penalties for breaking the Laws he has given. But we forget that, in giving Laws which he knows will be broken, and giving penalties which he knows will be enacted, he is demonstrating his undying Grace and faithfulness to an ungrateful and unfaithful people. With each Law, each penalty, each period of punishment, God reminds the Children of Israel that he hasn't given up on them yet. And that... that is more Grace than the most righteous person on earth can hope for.

In short, what I am trying to say is that Grace is nothing new. The coming of the Word in the flesh does not demonstrate some sort of "policy change" God has implemented concerning us sinners. It is a continuation and, in a way, amplification of what has always been true: Grace for sinners. Yes, we operate under different rules than the Old Testament Jews. But there was Grace before and under even the harshest Law.

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