Monday, August 13, 2007

Cheap Grace Denied Deity, Film at Eleven

Though I was aware of an ongoing discussion amongst Friends, especially those who are familiar with Friends United Meeting, and Western Yearly Meeting, concerning the price of grace. While there are a lot of folks out there who believe that a mighty god is always looking to take a pound of flesh from those who refuse Jesus as the way to postmortem bliss, I would probably find more agreement with those who believe in a more universal expression of God's love for creation. However, I do not believe in cheap grace, or find any reassurance that God might not be seeking real relationship with human beings but simply lets us drift through life without any real say in the matter.
A few years ago, my monthly meeting's book discussion centered on a book that suggested that God will not allow anyone to refuse grace, but instead gave non-theists any number of chances to repent and agree to some kind of fruitful relationship that might somehow make them better postmortem people. I wonder if this approach would work on my ex-wife.
Regardless, if there is no opportunity to refuse the grace of everlasting relationship with the Author of Life, then the relationship itself becomes meaningless. It would be a coercive act on the part of God if real choices were denied in the ultimate scheme of things. As so many cheesy popular music lyrics have suggested, you only truly love someone if you are willing to set them free.
My problems with the idea of an overreaching grace is that it implies that all relationships with God are, in the end, only truly engaged by God with no commitment to participation in such a relationship necessary for the created. Why would I want to be in relationship with someone who not only rejected my overtures, but refused to even engage in discussions concerning my shortcomings. I would never want to force someone to love me, though the pain of such rejection might be unbearable. I believe that God experiences unbelievable pain every time someone rejects the possibility, not only of a relationship with the Creator, but when we reject relationships with one another. Still, free will means we experience painful consequences, as our human propensity for broken relationships so often shows.
This is not to say that there are consequences for rejection of God. God stays faithful, loving and waiting and wooing humanity to love God and one another with all our hearts. There is no hell to be sent to because we don't love Jesus. Very simply, there is only death, and for so many of us, we look forward to a reunification with the Creator when God once again comes to dwell with humanity. (Rev 21) No I'm not suggesting we all go to heaven when its over, but I still hold out that full reconciliation with creation will be a reality for those who choose to be in relationship with God, and with one another. Perhaps, this even happens in a lifetime.


quakerboy said...

Another great post, Friend Scot. Having been reared with Bonhoffer's idea of "cheap grace" I often worry that my idea of universal reconciliation promotes this sort of idea.

I do believe that there are those who reject the love of God yet will eventually be reconciled with God via the work Jesus came to do. I believe Jesus came with a mission and I believe that he will not fail in that mission. In the end, "every knee shall bow and every tongue shall confess." Perhaps that makes me a Calvinist, but so be it :-).

What I compare it to is the love a father has for his child. The child can do anything and the father will still love them and want what is best for them...even to the point of denying their free will.

And what makes our relationship with our God work is that we worship God and seek God's will out of love rather than using our devotion as fire insurance.

A sovereign God who would allow creation to either be lost or annihited is a God I would not want to worship. Heck, I wouldn't even want that sort of God as my neighbor.

The "Seed" that God sows might fall on shallow or hard ground. It may not grow or produce fruit. But it is still a Seed and as such, will return to our Creator. Perhaps we will have to give an account of our actions. Perhaps just seeing our actions in the Light of God's grace will be punishment enough for those who reject God's love.

As you can see, I don't have it all figured out. What I do know is that I fell in love with Jesus and that is what makes me want to do what God would have me do. Some day I might just be consistant doing that Divine Will.

In the peace of the Risen Christ,
Greensboro, NC

forrest said...

Interesting, how this connects to what I wanted to say in that last email... because for a very long time I've been seeing (rightly or wrongly!) a lack of faith among many Friends. Not just a lack of "faith in _" or "belief that _" but faith, trust, the knowledge that there is One we can rightly put our faith in, that if we can "Get out of the boat and walk," something/ someone exists that can and will support the effort. What I find in its place is a strong belief that any such conviction is wrong, misguided, mistaken, illusory, unreasonable, socially unacceptable, and an act of aggression against anyone who disagrees!

I think of this common faithlessness as an affliction; I expect them to be eager and grateful to escape it. But no, they can't/won't come out of there. It's not like I can't write or talk effectively; there's a combination of automatic dismissal & disinterest that shoots the words down almost before they arrive. Like I was trying to tell poeple about Santa coming down the chimney...

Gospel of Thomas: "I found them all drunk; there was no one athirst among them. When they shake off their wine, then they will repent." That sort of condition.

And as I said in that email, faith in God's power implies that this condition is not an accident, that it has to be either beneficial or necessary, at least as a stage of development. Perhaps that means that people need to fully experience their doubt in the process of overcoming it?

Anyway, there are less 'externally-focused' theologies available, that shortcut past some of your issues here. Specifically, if we consider God's role as the very consciousness that experiences our lives, then "our relationship with God" is actually a relationship of God with part of himself. Questions of "this life" vs "later" become irrelevant. Ideas of "earning" grace, or conversely of "refusing to accept" grace, which might be appropriate if people were somehow "outside" God, really don't apply. If your big toe wants to secede and become an elephant, are you obligated to respect its wish? Would you rather give it--and yourself--an eternal hotfoot for its presumption? Better to teach it its place.

But when we use that idea outside the bodyparts metaphor, apply it directly to the place of human beings in relation with God--That, now, gives us something far more complex to learn. My wife once compared it to dancing with a dancing-master...

julie said...

On a less erudite note: I think it's really funny to tell Universalists that they're Calvinists at heart and don't believe in free will.