6And he raised us up together with the Messiah Jesus and seated us together with him in heavenly places, 7so that he could show the ages to come the superabundant riches of his grace in kindness bestowed on us in the Messiah Jesus. 8For you are saved by grace through faith, and even that is not your own–it is God’s gift! 9It is also not of works, so that nobody has a reason to boast. 10For we are made by God, created in the Messiah Jesus for good works, a way of life that God prepared for us ahead of time. — Ephesians 2:6-10
Jody used this scripture this morning in her Running Toward the Goal podcast. Actually she used this text back in July of 2003, when it was broadcast on the radio. This morning I selected it to go out via the Internet. You can find it on our Running Toward the Goal blog. If you have time today, listen to what she had to say about God’s kindness. It got me started on this devotional.
What does God owe us? This is not a difficult question when we think of it theologically or philosophically. We understand that God, as the infinite creator of everything, doesn’t actually owe us anything. God can be whatever he wants and he can do whatever he wants. But that answer isn’t very satisfying. Most of us don’t spend our time thinking theologicallyâ€”thank God!â€”and even when we do, we often don’t find that the right theological answer gives us any actual peace.
I recall taking up a version of this question with the professor who taught my one undergraduate course in philosophy of religion. It was not one of my favorite classes. We were discussing the nature of God, and the standard philosophical debate about how God can be both all good and all powerful, and yet evil continues to exist. So I asked the professor this question: Why is it that you would assume that God is good?
Now it was a philosophy class, so nobody was allowed to answer, â€œHe’s good because he says he is.â€ Rather, we were all supposed to be answering questions as though we just had to guess from the universe in general. My professor’s answer? â€œBecause an evil god would simply be too terrifying to contemplate.â€
I’m a pretty stubborn man, and not much of a philosopher or even a theologian. It’s more than 30 years later, and I still don’t think that answer was very good. If God hadn’t told us otherwise, if God hadn’t revealed himself to various prophets in scripture, if he hadn’t sent Jesus, and if he didn’t allow us to experience his presence today, I would have no particular reason to assume very much about him at all. I could guess that he had some virtues, from my point of view, in that he is at least pretty consistent in the way he runs the universe.
I think that the possibilities for how the universe is run are too terrifying to contemplate. If we have to operate without God’s self revelation, we really can’t eliminate any of those options. If we note that we are managing to live fairly well at this moment, then what about the next?
So start with this background. God owes us nothing. He created us. He could have created us for any reason whatever. We have no control, no claim, no certainty. There is no justice beyond God to which we can appeal. Who can judge God, after all?
And from that dark picture God sends his anointed Son who says God is kind. Through his infinite grace, for no other reason than that he is gracious, he created us, prepared a life of good works for us, then is going to elevate us to heavenly places where we will be seated along with his son, demonstrating just how gracious he is to future generations.
A light will seem brighter when it shines in a place that was totally dark. A thing of beauty stands out more fully when it provides relief from ugly surroundings. In this case the darkness, the ugliness is the despair of our own minds without God stepping in and providing his grace, shining his light, showing his kindness into our lives.
Those of you who are in the Wesleyan tradition hear the term â€œprevenient grace.â€ That light of God’s kindness, shining into your
darkness, is prevenient grace. It’s the grace that’s presented â€œwhile we were yet sinners.â€ It’s the one thing that makes it possible for us to know God and thus to know hope.
God’s kindness is truly amazing, overwhelming, life-transforming. Can you share it today with someone in despair?