Soup kitchens, gravity, rain, and the technology you are using to read this are reminders of the common grace afforded to everyone.
How do Charles Dickens, Al Capone, Issac Newton, and a myriad of renowned individuals reveal the grace of God?
Charles Dickens wrote everyone’s Christmas feel good story, A Christmas Carol, but abused his wife and was a terrible, cruel father.
Isaac Newton discovered physics and the law of gravity, but was extraordinarily mean, cruel, ruthless, petty, and vindictive.
Al Capone, America’s most notorious gangster, sponsored the charity that served up three hot meals a day to thousands of the Great depression unemployed—no questions asked.
The technology you are using was made possible by William Shockley, inventor of the transistor, an avowed racist, and proponent of eugenics.
We are more than happy to use the discoveries and inventions of shady characters. These references are not to turn a blind eye to dark behaviour but to focus on the grace of God.
The gift of God’s grace to humanity in general demonstrates a desire on God’s part to grant certain blessings on all human beings. The theological term for this is “common grace.” Jesus said, “…your Father in heaven… causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.“
Common grace reminds us that there is something good to be found in every human idea, movement, and innovation. In his kindness, God grants all people, without exception, to think better thoughts and do better things than their fallen nature should naturally lead them to.
Understanding common grace provides the basis for Christians to learn from people who do not share their faith or values.
Yes, you read that right.
God is at work in everyone. God speaks through believers, unbelievers, agnostics, atheists, pagans, and saints. Everyone. Even if we are convinced that the person in front of us has a deeply unbiblical agenda, we are still called to love them and treat them with respect.
That is common grace. You can find good in the bad and bad in the good.
It’s the reason why the non-theologian, Larry Norman (circa 1971) wrote the song, “Why Should the Devil Have All The Good Music?” Norman’s music was one of the great divides in my teenage Christian world. The good Christians who didn’t listen to his rock and roll music and the worldly ones who did. But even worse were the so-called Christians who listened to the Beatles, Joni Mitchell, or Bob Dylan.
Mature Christians are those who aren’t fearful of science, technology, or medicine. They recognize how a secularized culture can produce great things of worth that are good, true, and beautiful gifts.
One of my favourite Bible passages that illustrates common grace is found In Isaiah 45:1. We read of Cyrus, a pagan king who God anointed with his Spirit and chose for world leadership. Anointed and chosen are words that some Christians reserve exclusively for the faithful.
Cyrus is an indication of how God’s Spirit functions as a non-saving ennobling force in the world. God also works as a non-saving restraining force in the world. This is not the Spirit working as a converting or sanctifying agent but rather working to give wisdom, courage, creativity, and insight.
Born That Way
God’s law is written on the heart of every human being (Romans 2:14-15). Every person is born with an innate sense of honesty, justice, and love so that we are “without excuse.” (Romans 1:20)
“Every good and perfect gift comes down from above… from the father of lights” (James 1:17)
“When a farmer plows for planting… His God instructs him and teaches him the right way… all this also comes from the Lord Almighty, wonderful in counsel and magnificent in wisdom.” Isaiah 28:23–29
This means that every act of goodness, wisdom, justice, and beauty—no matter who does
it—is being enabled by God. Every advancement in human learning, every work of art, and every scientific discovery is simply God “opening his book of creation and revealing his truth” to us.
Common grace is not a universal belief of Christians. It is not without controversy. However, common grace is one way to avoid idol making out of Christendom values.
Tim Keller cautioned, “Without an understanding of the doctrine of common grace, Christians may think they can live and work self-sufficiently within a “sub-culture” of other believers. We may feel we should only go to Christian doctors, work with Christian lawyers, purchase Christian music, support Christian artists, and so on.”
Believers are inclined to stay in their sound bubble. They listen to people who think like them. They associate with people who act like them, or serve with people who are motivated by beliefs like theirs.
Keller reminds us, “…the gifts God has put in the world for believers he has also showered upon non-believers. Mozart was a gift to us, whether he was a believer or not. Jesus himself said that God “sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matthew 5:45).”
“God gives good gifts of wisdom, talent, beauty, and skill graciously, that is, in completely unmerited ways. He casts them across the human race like seed, in order to enrich, brighten, and preserve the world.”
Far from being unfair, God’s unmerited acts of blessings make life on earth much more bearable than it should be given the pervasive effects of sin on all of his creation.
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