Friday, April 21, 2017

The Crucial Eccentricity

Their heart was not steadfast toward him;
they were not faithful to his covenant.
Yet he, being compassionate,
atoned for their iniquity... —Psalm 78:37,38

This is a long song that surveys Israel’s dreary history from Egypt to Jerusalem and God’s amazing grace. One sentence sums up the story: "(Israel's) heart was not steadfast with (God)…but He, being full of compassion, forgave their iniquity" (78:37, 38).

The psalm searches my conscience for it reflects my penchant for wandering away. At the same time, it warms heart for it speaks of a grace that never gives up, and ends on a triumphant note at Mt. Zion where God demonstrated His love for us "while we were yet sinners" (78:67-72; cf., Romans 5:8).   

When we turn away from God we know misery—the psalm makes that point quite well. But when we turn back to Him there is immediate forgiveness. There are "no arrows dipt in wrath to pierce the guilty, but returning soul," William Cowper assures us.

This is what someone has called "the crucial eccentricity of the Christian faith"—this crazy assertion that we are saved by grace alone. It is a gift. And, it would seem, the ability to reach out and take it is a gift as well.

God has done everything that needs to be done to bring salvation to me. There’s nothing I have to do. There’s nothing I have to do. There’s nothing I have to do.

She takes the blame;
She covers the shame;
Removes the stain;
It could be her name—
Grace —U2

But, in another eccentricity, it is grace that calls me to obedience. Pascal wrote, "The property of mercy is to combat sloth (indifference to sin) by exhorting us to good works, according to that passage: 'The goodness of God leads to repentance...' And thus mercy, far from authorizing slackness, is on the contrary the quality that formally attacks it" (Pensées).

Shall I keep on sinning so God can keep on forgiving? What nonsense! How can I turn my back on One who is so gracious and kind?

David Roper

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