One of the books I've read at a time when I needed to hear grace and forgiveness (especially self-forgiveness), was a local theologian's little work, "Om uit Genade te Leef" (To live by Grace) by Malan Nel. He writes in this work how he realised how many people have a very skewed idea of God, probably through legalistic and moralistic preaching or through skewed catechism. I can confirm this when reviewing some of the sermons I've heard in my life and in general, the judging tendencies of "good" Christians towards others.
The point however is, such a skew image of God the Father robs us of the joy of a relationship with our heavenly Father and consequently, robs us from a victorious life in Christ and makes us NOT understand the grace of God. For example, people will talk about God as "the old man up there with a blue plan of life"; as if God is a deterministic Go d who "started" everything and now helplessly just sits and watch how life plays out. A deterministic view of God results in a view that God is no longer active in our world and lives (as our lives runs according to the "blue plan") and can therefore not intercept or change the course of history. Coupled to this, it also often results in a view of God as a judging, difficult spoilsport judge sitting on the court bench, just waiting for a moment to execute his wrath.
So these views about God involves two important facts about God or Christianity, which we need to unpack: the relationship with God and how He is involved in our lives and the creation as a whole.
By accepting Jesus Christ we enter into a relationship with God (its not a religion). Its a dynamic relationship with a living God which means that He is every second involved in our lives; changing the course of events (or not) but in such a way that all work out to the good for us. To help us understand God as our Father, we have earthly fathers and grew up in a family (and by the way, that is why I'm so concerned with single parent families and abusive fathers because ultimately, it adds on to a skewed view of God - but that's another topic). As I seek advice and help from my father growing up, it transcends to living in a relationship with God where He is my shelter, my Counsellor. And as fathers have grace and forgiveness for the wrong-doings of their kids, so too has God. This is why the concept of a relationship is so important in relation to grace. I also means that God is not a "far-away" God who is not involved in our lives. Like the song by Bette Middler: From a Distance....He is NOT from a distance. He is actually with us - Immanuel. Someone once said don't burden God with the small problems in your life - He has bigger things to care about. I disagree with that; because of my relationship, I can "burden" Him with everything. Although He is the Creator, he is also the re-creator; dynamically busy with creation and with my life and working towards the "good" for us (Rom).
The concept of a relationship also emphasizes the fact that God loves us unconditionally and through Christ, constantly forgives us of our wrong doings. As Malan Nel puts it: there is nothing we could do, which could render us not being a child of God any more; or banning us from communion with Him. The sad part is, we as Christians excommunicate people when they don't do what WE think should be done. We therefore do more than what God do and play judge of our fellow Christians. This is grace-killing! God is constantly reaching out to us calling us back into a relationship with Him.
Blue Plan Architect
This brings me to the second truth - the apparent "blue plan". Some believe that God has already developed this blue plan of our lives and now, everything is just playing out according to that plan. Firstly, such a view see God as someone who developed a plan for the creation ages ago (linear time concept). The problem with this view is that some might indeed conclude that God never elected me ages ago so what's the point of converting? Another problem is, to believe in a blue plan, God must have included sin and the consequences of those sin ages ago. Clearly that can't be. For example: did He then, on purpose, let someone get drunk to drive under the influence; to cause an accident; to let me become a paraplegic. In a "blue-plan-view", He indeed did cause all that and would therefore be the author of the sin in that man, making that man not liable for the sin AND making God to cause sin to fulfil his apparent "blue plan".
I do not believe that. Firstly, I don't think we should think of God in a linear time concept as He has no beginning and no end. This then negates the concept of a "blue plan" ages ago. Rather to me, He is involved in our life every second of the way and intervene as He sees fit. Secondly, He does change the course of events by intervening. How many people has not witnessed of how there car stalled at a traffic light etc. Yes, sometimes God do allow things to continue on a course, but then we have the comfort that all work out to the good. King David had to live with the consequences of his sin and lost his child, born from Batseba, but it worked out to his good at the end. This to me also follows that He is intervening in creation too.
So what does this all mean to us? One of the most useful concepts I've found is that of the victorious life through Christ. We have already part of the victory Jesus obtained on the cross and especially in the resurrection. Do we fully understand this concept? It therefore follows that we CAN overcome whatever life throws to us. We can overcome sin and grow into the image of Christ (1 Cor 3:18). It might not be easy and might take a life-long struggle, but we're on this journey of holification. In my life, it often was an off-road challenge. I constantly struggle with my imperfections, but never forget that God will not reject me because of that, and I can keep on because ultimately, we share in the victory of Christ. Having a skewed image of God, we often loose faith, loose hope and give up; robbing ourselves from the joy of living in a relationship with God. It also often lets us condemn ourselves to the point where we can't believe that we are still children of God. Abundant grace will remind us of God's love for us. Abundant grace will keep us in this relationship with God. Abundant grace will help us trust that all will work out to our good because of God's love.
Fixing this skewed image of God, will help us stand fast on some truths:
- Our relationship with God is reconciled through Christ! God doesn't look at us any more according to our sinfulness or what we do, but who we are in Christ. Its all about an identity change. The broken relationship has been reconciled. Read up on the "Father heart of God". If you do not have a good example of a father-relationship, remember God is not an earthly father. Floyd McClung wrote about this in "The Father heart of God". A side note! BE a father to your kids; it will help them later in their life relating to God as their Father!
- This knowledge will change the quality of our life due to the reconciled relationship we are having with God. He lives within us through the Holy Spirit! Our identity has changed!
- Unfortunately, this does not mean that everything would be smooth going forward. We're not yet in heaven. This world still has its pain and sorrow and brokenness. But we have the "tools" to deal with it. God will never forsake us and will always ensure that it works out to the good! He will comfort us. In pain, death, sickness or persecution, God is there and will comfort us. In the darkest hours, God is there to guide and comfort us. To believe is therefore to live with the grace of God, knowing that He will not forsake me!
- God is and will be my Father despite my failures! There isn't a point where God will say: "That's enough, now you've gone too far". Our sinful nature will be with us and sometimes we do get to a point which Paul explained: "what I don't want to do, I do...what I want to do, I don't". My refuge is in God through Christ! When we fall, we just need to get back to God and repair the broken relationship (like you would with your spouse or kids....).
- This relationship determine the quality of life; determines the victorious perspective. Its a life in the presence of God (Coram Deo). Its a life in which I know: despite my brokenness, I'm still living within a personal relationship with my heavenly Father.
To live in the grace of God, is to think differently about God; to live in a personal relationship with God. He is not a "far away" power but an intimate Father.
I am grateful for a wonderful father - yes he had his mistakes and we fought in my adolescence; but I'e come to realise over the years (and being a father myself), how he has helped me to experience God as my ultimate Father! I do struggle with my brokenness, but I never forget these facts of who I am in Christ; who God is!
- Credit for the graphics to http://personaltao.com/teachings/taoism/what-is-grace/ and http://grasslandchurch.com/2013/09/the-grace-of-god-convincing-grace/