I’ve had grace all wrong

3PictureFinchAlejandroEricksonA dear octogenarian friend took a bad fall, and complications from it landed her first in the hospital and then in a rehab center. She just got home after a month away.

She told her friends about her month, about the people she had met. I think she made quite an impression. A few staff members and fellow patients commented on her relentless solicitude, particularly because they knew she was suffering from pain and a diminution of mobility.

Hearing about her time in the rehab center confirmed to me, as Peter confirmed to his readers at his letter’s end, that “this is the true grace of God wherein ye stand.” I’m walking in a particular night, myself, though nothing as dramatic as the night of sense or the dark night of the soul. Nothing as difficult as my friend’s tough month. I won’t get specific, and it’s not all bad. But it’s dark enough.

Penetration into scripture often precedes my nights. I got an insight from Corinthians a month ago that I should have known would bring on longer nights this fall, if only so the insight would begin to move from my head to my feet – so it would, as the Psalmist puts it, light my path.

The insight involved my favorite Epistle, which includes this line popularized by altar calls: “Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.” It’s from 2 Corinthians, and it’s the King James. (I don’t think altar calls are done in anything but the King James.)

Decades ago I thought that “now is the day of salvation” meant now is the day to get saved, to be born again, to repeat the sinner’s prayer – however any particular evangelical church would put that. But the context is wrong, even granting for the moment that salvation means kneeling at an altar and filling out a card. Paul’s commentary on Isaiah (“now is the day of salvation” fixes the “day” in Isaiah’s “on the day of salvation I helped you”) supports not conversion but an unseen work: I can know, by faith and despite all other evidence, that I have God’s help – his grace.

Corinthians goes on to describe contexts and ways I can take care not to “receive the grace of God in vain.” The contexts are usually painful (Paul lists hardships, labors, and sleeplessness, for instance), and the ways are usually directed to others (Paul includes kindness and genuine love).

Grace, suffering, and good works loiter together in the darkness of letters like 2 Corinthians and 1 Peter, letters that advocate a certain suffering. A verse from the latter (in the King James):

Let them that suffer according to the will of God commit the keeping of their souls to him in well doing, as unto a faithful Creator.

Grace is the firstfruits of this suffering. It comes with the appreciation that I’m still receiving from God, even though it doesn’t seem like it. Grace, then, asks that I walk by that light.

I’ve had grace all wrong. Because the acceptable time is now, I can know I’m being helped even when I have no tangible proof of it. Faith acts as proof. The next proof after faith of the help I need is grace’s prompt benefit to those around me. In my own darkness, grace puts others first.

Photo by Alejandro Erickson. Used by permission.


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