Thursday, 24 March 2011
Grace - 3
Robert Capon: No. A pastor can’t take grace too far. That is, not unless he claims that sin doesn’t matter. If he claims that, he’s abusing grace, because sin does matter. It matters to me, the sinner. It matters whether I leave myself stuck in it.
Suppose a mother has a kid who comes in all muddy. She just washes off the mud. She loves her child and doesn’t wait to see whether the kid decides if he wants to live with mud all over him. She just washes it off. And if she is a faithful, true mother, she will continually take that mud into herself and say, "Well, this is my son, and I will stick with him."
TB: Mothers are like that.
RC: Yes. The point is that sin is mud. It’s a cover-up or cover-over of your true being as a person. And Jesus has washed it away. He’s erased the sins. He’s washed them away.
Not all churches practice infant baptism, but infant baptism is a wonderful testament to absolute grace. It says, "It’s done." It doesn’t say, after this if you do something, then you’ll be OK. It says, "You’re OK now," not because you did something or thought something or figured something out, but you’re OK now because Jesus says so.
It isn’t religion that makes you OK with God, it’s God who does it. The sacraments are not religion. They do not cause something to happen. You don’t change the wine in the Eucharist into the blood of Christ, the presence of Christ. You just put up a sign in which you say, he is present in this sign as he is present in all things, including me.
For example, a priest in my jurisdiction holds up the bread and wine before communion and says, "Behold the Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world." That means that the whole world is changed, changed by Christ.
TB: Some people say that if you preach grace a lot, people will get the idea that they can go ahead and sin all they want and still be saved. What would you say about that?
RC: First of all, I would say they’re perfectly free to sin all they want whether you give them permission or not. But the thing that they are not free to achieve on their own is their own forgiveness, and that is what is already done. They simply have to accept that in Jesus, God has forgiven their sins.
Jesus is the Word of God incarnate. The incarnation has been in the works from the beginning. The incarnation is from the foundation of the world—no, before the foundation of the world. The incarnation is not an afterthought. God didn’t say, "Uh-oh, I’ve got to do something now," after Adam and Eve ate from the tree. The incarnation is built into the fabric of the creation from before time began. So after sin came into the picture, history simply becomes the restoration of the human race to God in Christ.
It’s all that and also the results of paying no attention to that restoration. You can’t experience what you don’t pay attention to. What’s the first argument that happens after the fall?
TB: Cain and Abel. They argued over religion.
RC: Exactly. My god likes my sacrifice better than your god likes your sacrifice (laughter). Adam and Eve exit the garden, and the angel guards the way to the tree of life with a flaming sword, so this brilliant idea that we will be like god blows up in their faces. And of course, the only thing that could mean is that even though they couldn’t make themselves god, they could turn God into a copy of themselves.
TB: God in their own image?
RC: Yes. First comes the idea that we will be like God, and then the next disaster is to make God like ourselves. The basis of classic orthodoxy, with all its faults, is that it does say it’s all done. It does give you the doctrine of the Trinity. Pure monotheism is dangerous. The doctrine of the Trinity embraces the paradox of mutuality in God himself without violating the unity of God—because it can only be presented as a paradox and a mystery.
Paradox can take you on trips that religion can’t even buy a ticket for. God is who God is, who he reveals himself to be, not something we can reason out or come up with by some kind of logic. And from before the foundation of the world, God is both Creator and Redeemer. The incarnation of the Word stands under and upholds everything, which means we can pay attention to the restoration that is already a reality for us.