Friday, August 29, 2014

By his mercies -- Common grace

    This summer it rained twice here in southern California. (It rained all day long in fact; it was very shocking.) Usually, we have no rain at all in the summer. The normal amount of rain is .12". This season we have had .37"!  But we are also experiencing drought here in California, so our unexpected rain has had very little impact on the overall situation. The philosophical question here is, "Why did it rain in S. CA during a summer in a drought?" Was God trying to tell us something or help us out? Was the rain just a freak natural event? Did a group of native Americans intone just the right incantation? Why does it rain and what does it mean?
     Yesterday I read an interesting passage of Scripture about rain -- one I had never noticed before. Jer. 14:22 says, "Do any of the worthless idols of the nations bring rain? Do the skies themselves send down showers? No, it is you, O Lord our God. Therefore our hope is in you, for you are the one who does all this."  False gods, superstitions, or even scientific procedures do not bring rain and neither is it a purely naturalistic phenomenon. Only God sends the rain. Jesus said, "[God the Father] causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous." (Mt. 5:45)
     Only two groups of people inhabit this world -- the redeemed and the unsaved -- yet God graciously gives his gifts of sustenance to both. The righteous are not more worthy because they have received the gift of salvation. The unrighteous are not undeserving because of their sinful state. The graces of rain and water and sun and food are freely given to all Creation by the Creator-God. This grace is called "common" or "universal" grace.
     Through common grace God provides for our everyday needs. God gives us food (Gen. 1:29) and water (Deut. 11:11,12), air to breathe (Acts 17:25) shelter (Jonah 4:6) and clothing Gen. 3:21). He does this because we are his children, whom he created. We are physical beings and have physical needs. The fact that God cares for these needs points to the fact that he is the Creator; for he would not abandon us or turn us loose in the world without giving us the assurance and the knowledge that we are provided for.
     God also provides these things for the animals he has made. Ps. 104:27 says, "These [animals] all look to you to give them food at the proper time," and Jesus said that the foxes have dens and birds have nests to live in. (Mt. 8:20) One of the most amazing aspects of creation is that each animal instinctively knows what to eat and where to live. This is God's common grace acting upon their lives, for he made each in a unique way and cares for them accordingly.
     Now, immediately we might think that God does not continually pour out his care upon creation, because so many people lack the things they need to survive. People and animals die everyday because they do not have enough food or water. It seems like God does not care for everyone or that he does not care in the same way. But we live in a fallen world; and its fallenness often goes at cross-purposes with his care. Evil governments, bad practices and the sinful human spirit have generated circumstance where God's common grace is not fully felt. This is why God calls us who know and follow him to be his instruments of grace and justice in this world. We are called to bring healing and hope wherever we can. We are also called to trust fully in his gracious love.
     Just as we should not turn our backs on saving grace, we should not cast aspersions on common grace. We do this in more ways than we care to admit. We may be wasteful and use more food and water than we really need. This is the sin of gluttony, which entails, in addition to eating and drinking to excess, excessive desires to do and have whatever we want. It is opposed to love, which gives and causes us to think of the needs of others before our own. God gives us what we need when we need it; he does not, however want us to be selfishly needy.
     Lately there's been a lot of chatter about "what foods to eat" in both Christian and secular arenas. While it is certainly dangerous to eat foods that are chemically over processed or to eat things like fat and sugar in excess, no food in and of itself should be considered bad or wrong to eat. Food is not intrinsically evil; it does not suffer from a fallen condition in and of itself. All food (plants and meat) has been given to us as a gift from our loving God. (Gen.1:29, 30, 9:3) We are called to receive every food with thanksgiving and moderation. (1Tim. 4:4, Phil. 4:5, KJV) Also, and this is very important in today's debate over food, we are not to judge what another person eats, or forbid people to eat certain foods. (Rom. 14:13-18, 1Tim.4:3)
     I am planning to write more on this topic of food and the Christian life, but for now I wish to make this one point -- what we eat is covered by God's common grace. No matter what point in history we may examine, or what foods have ever come into question, God gives food to us as his gift and he covers whatever negative elements it might have by his powerful grace. "Bad" things can and have happened because of food, but it is not because any food is "bad." God works in this world to keep the negative effects of sin in this world from exercising their full power. We live in him, we shall die in him.
     Everyday that we live, we need to thank God for his common grace that "preserves our life from destruction." While thanksgiving, balance and discernment are in order, we also need to know that we can live at peace because God cares for us, even in a fallen, confused and frightening world. As the Apostle John declared, "From the fullness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another." (Jn. 1:16)