Sunday, November 18, 2007

Law and Grace

Romans 8:1-4

I love to read. I can’t be without a book. If I am without reading material, I will read the side panels of cereal boxes, the back of toilet paper packages, and the fine print on an antibiotic tube. There is a bookcase in every room of my house—even the hallway. Obsessive? Most likely.

I work at a library, and I often get asked what I am reading. I am a serious and eclectic reader. I enjoy reading scripture commentaries and history books. I love to study the origins of words. Not so good for reading recommendations to our patrons. And there have been times I have been embarrassed about this. So, I have been reading a lot of fodder lately. Mindless reading to wind down before bed, or in the small spaces of time before the next event or appointment. I do this in explosive spurts and sporadic bouts.

The result is always the same. I regret wasting the time. Then I feel guilty. I have that terrible, heavy feeling of being a poor steward of my time and energy. When this pattern occurs I always feel depleted rather than replete. This kind of reading extends the belly of my mind, and I am full for the moment. Later I am far hungrier than I was before.

Being aware of this pattern, I made stipulations on my reading habits. I told myself that I would need to get two or three chores done before I could read a chapter or two. I told myself that there were certain kinds of books I shouldn’t read—books that increased my discontent or fed a restless spirit. I made a law concerning my reading habits, and I even talked to a dear friend about it.

I just went through one of my sporadic fits of reading and the law didn’t hold.

Why not?

I started thinking about this. The books and the reading are not the real issues.

I had a rule, a law, in place to remind me. But I didn’t adhere to my own law—one that I knew was beneficial. I stepped right over the boundary.

My law was powerless.

Law never produces the desire or the eagerness to do right. Law is simply a measure of whether you are meeting a standard or not. The law points out whether we hit or miss the mark—its bedfellow is condemnation. The law only measures outward behavior, not inward motivation and intention. It does not grow or produce longing and yearning, because it is not life-giving. Some people live “by the law”, but they are not imparted life through it.

Then what is the purpose of law? To set a standard that produces consequences for disobedience? Is that the only reason we have law? To curb our wayward behaviors? To put parameters around our conduct? Law cannot reconstruct our mental DNA. Demands and expectations of the law can only temporarily curb our actions. Law cannot change our minds.

Then is there anything, anything, which can?

Yes!

Grace.

What in the world do law and grace have in common? Some people live as if grace is the polar opposite of the law. Grace and law are not opposites. They are not diametrically positioned, and they do not negate one another. Grace and law work together.

My law did not change my behavior. It temporarily curbed my actions.
Temporarily. I set a standard…and I missed the mark.
This is the purpose of the law.

Law must be in place to understand and experience grace.

Law is the backdrop for grace. Law is the austere, black velvet that showcases the resplendent diamond of grace.

Many people see the law as being the hard taskmaster—unrelenting, unforgiving and unbending. There is a kernel of truth in this perception. We also tend to see grace as soft and gentle. Meek and mild. Always forgiving. Always excusing. Always flexible. This is a distorted view of grace.

Grace does not accommodate or encourage sin. Grace is not weak. Grace has a tensile strength that will hold much longer than the hard grip of the law. And it will hold. It fills the gap that the law reveals.

Grace transforms.

I read this morning. And I don’t regret one minute of the time spent turning the pages. It wasn’t fodder. (This is a book I will recommend) It was a book about the journey of a very visible woman just a few years older than me. She missed the mark of the law. She felt (and was by the religious community) condemned. But she has experienced and been transformed by God’s tensile grace.

Grace creates desire and eagerness to want to do what is good, pure, lovely, noble, and praiseworthy.

Grace changes our spiritual DNA.

I have something in common with the author of the book I am reading—we both have a huge diamond ring, and neither one of us deserved it.

1 comment:

shirley said...

A kindred spirit....I too read everything I see...Thanks so much for bringing more clarity to my mind concerning law and grace