Can we be free without grace?

One thing stood out for me at our conference this year: that education without grace – that human society without grace, cannot be free or healthy.

If education excludes religious discourse, then it cannot include the grace of God as an energizing factor. Yet American education is trying to build a perfect society. Consider what this means:

My goal is to build a great society. I am going to use education to form the sort of people I want this great society to be filled with. Then how will I form them?

I can provide information that will make them know the things I want them to know. 
I can coerce them into doing the things I want them to do.
I can manipulate them into doing the things I want them to do and make them think they like it.

In other words, I have decided that I am wise enough not only to know how people should behave, but also to implement a system to cause them to behave that way.        

But what can I do to influence another person’s behavior if I don’t believe in God? I cannot allow God’s grace to do His work, in His way, at His time. I have to take matters into my own hand. I can use the law and follow it up with coercion or I can use psychological manipulation.

Of course, this is an oversimplification of the appearance of what happens and most people who don’t believe in Divine Grace, no matter their beliefs, are better than their principles. But the issue of scale is important here. The trouble is that these people want to build a better world. To do that, they have to influence a lot of people. To do that, they have to think in abstract, large, impersonal terms.

So they are left with law and coercion or psychological manipulation. And in fact, it isn’t hard to see how this works in our society. When someone wants to change the world these days, his options are 1. to form a bureaucratic agency, preferably within the government where every bureacracy is welcome because the the nature of modern government is to expand through new bureaucracies, or 2. to engage in a PR campaign based on marketing methods.

In the first case, the Champion of the Race is turning to law and coercion. The patron saint of this camp would have to be FDR, who saved the world through no less than who knows how many acronyms. BTW, a world dominated by acronyms is a world out of its mind, KWIM?

In the second case, the Savior of Humanity is relying on psychological manipulation.

The shame is the extent to which these are the means used by Christian organizations. It’s understandable. Ever since Abraham and Sarah we’ve been inclined to take God’s work into our own hands by turning to law or flattery. But God-fearing people don’t have to do that. They can trust in God’s grace, since they, after all, believe in it. They must surely understand that the kingdom of God is not co-terminous with their own ministries. But we forget quickly.

With grace we can let God do His work of renewal according to His own will and modes of acting. We can laugh at martyrdom and sacrifice because He has promised that if we seek first His kingdom all the things the “Gentiles” seek will be provided for us.

In fact, the other thing I took out of the conference was that the culture we want Him to establish is a comic culture. It isn’t established by our imposing it on the age or by arguing it into existence. It is established when we die to ourselves, sacrifice authority, are martyred every day by dying to our ambitions. Because God is the one who will bring it about. We’ll just sit in awe and watch.

It’s a comic culture because it goes to the meek, not the agressive. It’s a comic culture because we build it not by assertion and self-confidence, but by repentence and humility. It’s a comic culture because it is secured through the abandonment of our personal ambitions. And because the lovers of power will not understand but will laugh at the humble, it is a comic culture because nobody will see it coming until their health is restored and their eyes opened by those who were willing to lose all for the sake of the greedy, ambitious, and selfish.

It does not begin and end with “making a diffeence.” It begins and ends with death to self, with concrete acts of love for neighbor.

Because we give up on the quest for control and thus utopia, liberty is possible, but only when the leaders govern by grace. And only when everybody understands that if liberty is possible so is disaster.

But that’s the other comic element. Nothing disastrous can happen to the person who seeks the kingdom of God. “It’s all good.”

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