Grace is thrown around all the time. We are reminded it is not us, instead it is the grace of God that saves. These words have crisscrossed our nation and gone into all the world. And this is good news. Our salvation does not depend on our activity or our social location or our gender or wealth. It is truly grace, but grace is more.
I think I was in 6th grade when the Magic Eye books hit the market. These books were received with great excitement. I hear these abstract images gave way to a 3-D image of a horse or a lion or three crosses or whatever. I wonder if this was a well-marketed practical joke because I never saw anything other than the original image. Try as I might, I could not adjust my view to see the “magic” image.
Even though the “aha” never came with the magic eye books, I have been witness to new things from old. It is the beautiful thing about life and language. Something that has turned almost wooden or rote can spring to new life.
This happens all the time as I practice dwelling in the word. I was taught dwelling in the word in a Master’s Program at Rochester College. This way of reading with others has a way of opening us to God. The second semester we focused our dwelling on a familiar text, Philippians 2:5-18. As we read, I was drawn into a phrase I’d heard all my life, “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.”
That text washed over me and I started to recount, to work out my own salvation. The people and the stories and the activities and the sacraments. Moment by moment I remembered. I guess I had never taken account of all this but to reflect was an act of grace. Memories of many kinds. Landmark decisions, small almost inconsequential moments. Sad moments and joyful ones. This was grace.
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We read from Job at church a couple weeks ago. “I know that my redeemer lives.” The words echoed through the service. Again and again we turned to those words. “I know, I know that my redeemer lives.”
Those words transported me back to a packed hospital room. We had far exceeded the ICU visitor limit, but no one seemed to care. The gathering was full of familiar faces. Faces that helped raise my brothers and I. Those who Mamaw and Papaw had shared life with. Dad and Mamaw stood on the right side of the bed. Mamaw held Papaw’s hand, as the song dashed out our tears.
We sang the chorus as loudly as our grief would allow. “I know, I know that my redeemer lives.”
These are the moments where my salvation was worked out. The daring speech of Scripture gave us the ability to stand in an ICU and declare life. “I know, I know my redeemer lives.”
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Last week Miroslav Volf’s Facebook status got me to thinking. He said, “When suffering comes, sometimes we see only the dark abyss of nothingness, but sometimes through the darkness God’s face shines on us.” This truth is what continues to draw me back to the Christian story.
If I told you I never had doubts, I would be lying. Actually, sometimes the doubts are so strong I can barely bring myself to pray. The doubts take different forms. At times, it is the logic of it all. I just cannot find solid footing in the arguments. Other times questions about suffering and pain spark doubt.
Still other times it is the dark abyss of nothingness Volf describes.
The Avett Brothers have this song called “Winter in My Heart.” They play on the oft-used winter imagery to unpack a gray, cold moment in their life. I know what they mean. If our souls have seasons—and I believe they do—this has been a winter season for me. The most difficult part, which The Avett Brothers agree, is “I don’t know what the reasons are.”
But the reality of grace is even in the dark abyss, even God’s face shines. God finds us in the great and the gloomy. The praise and the lament. Volf’s Facebook message is one way I am being saved. It caught me and it was grace for me.
God’s salvation is happening; we are being saved. This activity must be shared. It is more than grace for our individual souls. These are the stories we must tell, so together we can work out our salvation.
So may you live in the reality of how you are being saved. I hope you reflect on the moments, the great and the small, of salvation. May they cover you as the water covers the sea.