For those of you who don’t know it, common grace is the two-bit expression used to describe the blessings God showers on all people–believer and unbeliever. Sunshine, rain, the ability to look at the blue sky, green trees, golden fields, and appreciate their beauty. The capacity to enjoy the smell of flowers and the taste of good food. The love and closeness which result from relationships with friends and family. Jobs, money, and homes. All these good and perfect gifts come to us from the Fasther of lights with whom there is no shadow of variation.
This does not mean everyone enjoys all these good things at once, or to the same degree. It might be raining at my house while it is shining at yours. The beauty of nature is everywhere, but it looks different on the Kansas Plains than in the hills of Kentucky or red sandstone formations of Utah.
Then there is the bad stuff: sickness, death, crime, poverty, and natural disaster. For example, I went to a workshop yesterday where several teenage girls told their stories. They had all come from homes in which they had been neglected and physically, verbally, sexually, and emotionally abused. By the time they were in their early teens they were on the street, addicted to drugs, and sexually active. Most of them had been raped and gang raped. They gave testimonials to how they got clean and sober and back into school with the help of caring people.
When I heard the stories of these young ladies I immediately thanked God for the great family I was raised in. But I also thought about how we are quick to attribute the blessings in life to God but then act and think as if He has nothing to do with the bad stuff that comes our way. But if God is in control of the blessings in our lives, who calls the shots when it comes to the curveballs and beanballs life throws our way? To put the question a little differently, why were those girls raised in abusive homes while I enjoyed a loving family? Why have I been spared from the devastation of tsunamis, earthquakes, famines, etc., that have ripped the lives of others apart?
Several answers have been offered. Some would say bad things happen to bad people. That God sent the tsunami to Asia as a judgment against generations of Buddhism and Shintoism. Idiots like Pat Robertson claimed God sent the 911 destruction as punishment for America’s toleration of homosexuality. Others would slightly depersonalize this argument and say that we live in a fallen world. Sin has infected all of creation and suffering goes with the territory of living on this planet. Some would go so far as to suggest a kind of dualism in which God has literally no involvment with anything bad in the world. According to this kind of thinking it is as if Satan and mother nature work independently of God. This is a Christian kind of semi-deism. At the far fringe is pure deism, which I assume needs no explanation for my theologically astute swordroom readers.
Then there is the biblical doctrine of divine providence. We see this concept in the stories of Joseph and Job. Both had been blessed by the Lord, and both had suffered horrifically through no fault of their own. In both stories we see that Satan and the brothers of Joseph meant it for bad, but God meant it for good. Good according to His definition and in His time. We trust God because He is in control of all which comes to pass in the universe because it is His universe. Everything in it belongs to Him, including us. Ultimately He is responsible for the thorns as well as the roses, for the pits as well as the cherries.
This bitter pill does not always go down easy. But without belief in the biblical teachings of common grace and divine providence, how could we trust God?
Now for the rest of the story. No sooner had I finished this entry when my son informed me he had been in a fender bender last night about 11 pm, after I was in bed. Fortunately neither party was hurt and the accident was not his fault. Still, for a young man who has never had a ticket or an accident it was a bit stressful. He was able to drive the truck home, and the other lady’s car had to be towed (she ran a stop sign). It might take more than the truck is worth for repairs, so with the gray clouds God allows into our lives often there is a silver lining.