This weeks 'thought" comes from one of the best and most thought provoking books I've read in a while - "Free of Charge - Giving and Forgiving in a Culture Stripped of Grace." The author is Miroslav Volf. He was born in Osijek, Croatia, studied at Evangelical-Theological Faculty in Zagreb, and Fuller Theological Seminary, and is presently Professor of Theology at Yale Divinity School and Director of the Yale Center for Faith and Culture.
His previous book, "Exclusion and Embrace" won the 2002 Grawemeyer Award in religion and was selected as among the 100 best religious books of the 20th Century by Christianity Today.
This selection comes from chapter one - "God the Giver," and is found under the sub-section entitled: "Breath" and "Denying Gifts, Wronging the Giver." Enjoy.
"The very existence of human beings comes from God. We live, not so much on a borrowed, but on a given breath. We work, we create, we give, but the very ability and willingness to work, along with life itself, are gifts from God. Moreover, these are not just gifts we can take and then run with on our own. They are gifts that, like breath, must be given over and over for us to even exist, let alone accomplish anything. 'What do you have that you did not receive?' asked the apostle Paul rhetorically (I Corinthians 4:7). The answer is: nothing, absolutely nothing.
Most of us don't quite 'get' the extent of God's gift giving, even if we grasp it intellectually. We live more or less like Raleigh Hays, the hero of Michael Malone's novel Handling Sin. He was a decent citizen and a responsible family man who 'obeyed the law and tried to do the right thing' and who thought he had secured for himself the decent middle-class life he led. He was wrong. Through a series of unlikely events, he had to be shaken into the awareness that some 'grace had given him, for no earthly reason, like surprise presents, everything, absolutely everything he'd thought he earned, and sustained by his own will, and deserved.' To come to believe that God has given us 'absolutely everything' is to know what it means that, as creator, God is a giver...
All things are from God and through God, and yet we want to be independent of God, standing on our own two feet, claiming God's gifts as our own achievement. The young Karl Marx, barely twenty-six years old, put this sentiment as boldly as possible. In a text that remained unpublished in his lifetime, he gave an expression to the heart of his rebellion against God:
'A being only counts itself as independent when it stands on its own two feet and it stands on its own two feet only as long as it owes its existence to itself. A man who lives by the grace of another considers himself a dependent being...'
Marx held firmly to human independence. It almost seemed to him a value that lies at the bottom of all values. Because the reality of God as creator is incompatible with human independence, he denied the existence of God.
Most of us, especially the believers among us, won't deny God's existence in order to secure our independence. Instead, we think that we can have it both ways. We believe that we can stand on our own two feet, independent of God, and still affirm that he is the creator of everything. But that doesn't make sense. We can be both dependent on God and free; dependence on God is the source of our being, and therefore our freedom. But we can't be created by God and independent; God sustains creatures in being and in freedom.
When we assert our independence, when we ascribe to ourselves what comes from God, we wrong God - at least as much as I would wrong an author whose ideas I would peddle as my own. That's our main sin against God the giver. If, like Raleigh Hays, we see ourselves as more or less honest, hardworking citizens, we may believe that we deserve what we have... that rather than receiving it, we earned it. And we want to dispose of our hard-earned goods the way we please. They become not so much gifts given to us to enjoy and pass on, but rather our exclusive possessions.
Assertion of independence, pride of achievement, sense of entitlement, an absolute right to dispose with our goods -- these are the ways in which we live in contradiction to who we actually are in relation to God. And in these ways, we, decent citizens, live as inveterate sinners. To live in sync with who we truly are means to recognize that we are dependent on God for our very breath and are graced with many good things; it means to be grateful to the giver and attentive to the purpose for which the gifts are given."
As 'believers' it's difficult for us to realize (because of the philosophical
presuppositions we've inadvertantly adopted from our secularized, man-centered and humanistic culture) that the unbelievers desire to live independent of God and the believers error in thinking we are not entirely dependent on him at all times and for all things, are expressions of practical atheism. Volf (commenting on Marx) is right: 'The reality of God as creator is incompatible with human independence... we can't be created by God and independent," because "God sustains creatures in being and freedom."
Part of the "renewing of our minds" which Paul speaks of in Romans 12:2, involves simply coming to the place where we can honestly acknowledge what is true, and what unbelievers deny: That God is the giver of all -- that life and breath and everything else comes from Him (Acts 17:25), and thus we are entirely dependent on Him for everything! Our hearts would not beat, nor our minds think, nor our feet move, nor our souls feel, dream or desire (or anything else!) were it not for God's sustaining power and grace so constantly bestowed upon us every minute of every day!
No wonder Jesus could say, "I am the vine and you are the branches and apart from me you can do nothing." John 15:5
Christianity is not a matter of attempting to believe something that's not true, it's merely coming to concede what is!
In Christ, Pastor Jeff