Thursday, 21 March 2013

Seeking Grace

Give ear, O Lord, to my prayer; listen to my plea for grace.
In the day of my trouble I call upon you, for you answer me.
~ Psalm 86:6-7 (ESV)

The concept of God's grace, or living in a state of grace is not necessarily one that many Unitarians think about. In the Bible, the state of grace is associated with living at peace under God's protection. In the New Testament, Paul uses the term in his letters to describe a state obtained through acceptance of Jesus as Christ, and associated with the receipt of the Holy Spirit. So, we could define the state of grace as living at peace with God, placing in God all trust and accepting what comes as it comes.

Is this fatalism? I don't think so. To me, it's an ideal of trust. To live your life, as responsibly as you can, but accepting that bad things happen and that you will be granted the strength to see you through these difficult times. Is this an absence of God, or God-ordained punishment? Again, I don't consider this to be the case. Jesus says that the kingdom of God is within. For me, the account of the resurrection tells us that Jesus rent the veil that had existed to that point between God and man. No longer would God's spirit be in the temple, using priests as intermediaries, but God would be within all. through Jesus, we are all children of God, and the Holy Spirit is within us as a divine spark in our soul. By the way we live, we choose to nurture this spark in to a flame or to suppress it to a dull ember. Compassion for others, a loving heart and open trust are traits that I associate with a person nurturing the spirit within them.

This is a state I seek, and have seen in others. To suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, as the Bard puts it, with ... well, grace. Trusting in God, life, the universe, to make it right in the end or, at least, to make things bearable. I struggle with trust. Trust in myself, in others, in God. I think this is a common problem in modern Western society. We are raised to be independent individuals, and modern life tends to mean that we are mobile. We move away from old networks of friends and family as we grow older and leave home, seeking jobs where they can be found. If we are lucky, new networks replace the old. If not, then we can be left isolated as and without the support mechanisms of community that were taken for granted only a couple of generations ago. Raised as independent individuals we are unwilling, or unable to allow ourselves, to accept help from others - even when openly offered. 

As Easter approaches once more, I think about the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus and I contemplate how to open my heart and nurture that spark within. I seek that elusive state of Grace.

The people who survived the sword found grace in the wilderness;
when Israel sought for rest, the Lord appeared to him from far away.
I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.
~ Jeremiah 31:2-3 (ESV)

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
~ Romans 5:1-5 (ESV)

Recommended Reading:
Where is God when it Hurts? by Philip Yancey
The Walk by Richard Paul Evans
When I Lay my Isaac Down by Carol Kent
God's Problem: How the Bible fails to answer our most important question - Why we suffer by Bart D. Erhman

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