Grace and Law (Revisited)

Paul F.M. Zahl, Grace in Practice: A Theology of Everyday Life
The law crushes the human spirit; grace lifts it up.

The story of the Bible is the story of this perpetual war between law and grace. Law comes in . . . and human beings become excited by it. They become excited to resist it. The law, which is any form of external command, provokes the opposite reaction from the one it is in intended to provoke. Instead of inciting obedience or submission, it incites rebellion. It provokes revolutionary resentment (1).

Any judgment, any evaluation—even if it approves and speaks a blessing—will be heard as a negation. This is an absolute first principle of this book. Law is an attack. It is heard as a negation by its recipients. All laws are negation. God’s law is the negation (6).

The gospel of Christ has to do with guilt and with the ashamed response of imperfect people to a perfect God. The gospel represents a transaction involving guild and the shame of being caught in the reality of human being and human action, which is powerfully self-deceived. The gospel is about the relation between law, which is crushing, stunning, and wrecking, and grace, which is restoring, repairing, and recreative. . . . The gospel is about force and effect, punishment and rehabilitation. The focus of this book is on the gospel, the leverage of Christianity in relation to human resistance and brokenness . . . . The focus of this theology of everyday life in on how Christianity works (28).

Law, whether biblical and universally stated or contextual and contemporarily phrased, operates in one way. Law reduces its object, the human person, to despair (29).

[T]he law dispossesses love in every place to which it speaks (32).

What is grace? Grace is love that seeks you out when you have nothing to give in return. Grace is love coming at you that has nothing to do with you. Grace is being loved when you are unlovable. It is being loved when you are the opposite of loveable (emphasis added).

Let’s go a little further. Grace is a love that has nothing to do with you, the beloved. It has everything and only to do with the lover. Grace is irrational in the sense that it has nothing to do with weights and measures. It has nothing to do with my intrinsic qualities or so-called “gifts” (whatever they may be). It reflects a decision on the part of the giver, the one who loves, in relation to the receiver, the one who is loved, that negates any qualification the receiver may personally hold.

Grace is one-way love.

The one-way love of grace is the essence of any lasting transformation that takes place in human experience (36).

One-way love lifts up. One-way love cures. One-way love transforms. It is the change agent of life.

Grace depends on the fact that its origin is wholly outside myself. This is the heart of love; it comes to me from outside myself. Moreover, while it almost always elicits a response, which is my love in return, it comes toward me without any reference to my response. One-way love does not deviate on the basis of its goal. It is determined solely by its source.

One-way love is the change agent in everyday life because it speaks in a voice completely different from the voice of the law. It has nothing to do with its receiver’s characteristics. Its logic is hidden within the intention of its source. Theologically speaking, we can say it is the prime directive of God to love the world in no relation to the world’s fitness to be loved.

One-way love is also irrational because it reaches out to the specifically undeserving person. This is the beating heart of it. Grace is directed toward what the Scripture calls “the ungodly” (Romans 5:6). Not just the lonely, not just the sick and disconsolate, but the “perpetrators,” the murders and abusers, the people who cross the line. God has a heart—his one-way love—for sinners (37-38).

The grace of God assumes the worst concerning the human situation. It assumes the lowest possible reading of our anthropology. . . . Grace, which is one-way love, happens only at the point at which hope is lost (42-43).

For grace to be grace, there must be one-way love. For grace to be grace, it is necessary that I play no role whatsoever in that love. . . . The love of God, the true love of anyone, in fact, is a one-way love that travels from the deserving to the undeserving (59).

Grace as one-way love comes out of nowhere into a world determined by two-way love (“I will love you if you will love me”) and half-way love (“I will love you but I need a little sign, just a little one”) (62).

Grace is about life from death, or better, life to the dead (63).

No comments: