Grace and the Handbasket

6a00d8341c511c53ef01127946ed5928a4-800wiA difficulty arises when making cultural observations – things rarely turn out as expected. The Roman Empire fell once upon a time, although the fall wasn’t nearly as clean and final as Gibbons imagined and it wasn’t really the Roman Empire that fell. But ever since the “Roman Empire fell” people have been rehearsing the lessons learned and expecting its repeat. Yet the empires (or whatever is expected to fall) seem to trundle on.

I am a cultural observer, and I share my observations here. Occasionally they can be rather bleak and even cynical. After all, having read the Scriptures and the Fathers, history is not expected to turn out well on its own. The Second Coming is an intervention in the worst of the worst of times.

And yet.

There always seems to be something else at work within history. We have seen the collapse of empires, and the creation of evil empires. But in my lifetime, it has largely been the “evil empires” that have fallen. How is it that things, placed on a firm foundation of nefarious workings, ruled by dark masters with no remorse for their cruelty, actually get better? Why does evil not grow relentlessly stronger?

I believe the answer is simple – grace. Grace is the very life of God. It sustains our world  in its existence. It works good despite the best (or worst) of our evil intentions. It mends our brokenness and creates new beginnings over and over again.

And it must always be borne in mind when we think about history and the workings of various forces and tendencies. It must be remembered when we feel lost in the various disasters that haunt our personal lives. Grace is at work.

There are causes and effects that can be analyzed and yet the sums never add up properly. This doesn’t negate the cause and effect of events around us but points to something outside that chain persistently working in a single direction – our well-being.

To be a Classical Christian in a modern setting easily breeds a negative view of the surrounding culture. Modernity is antithetical to tradition. But the very persistence of Classical Christianity in the modern world is itself a product of grace. Why are we still here?

All of this is expressed in St. Luke’s gospel: “For He is kind to the ungrateful and the evil” (6:35). The proof is all around us.

14 comments:

  1. Raphael,
    I certainly think the two should be held together. One without the other would lead to wrong conclusions.

    Interestingly for me, the chain of cause and effect is entirely sufficient to explain the workings of evil. But they are never sufficient to explain the workings of grace.

  2. Thank you for this observation. Since experiencing (with great fear) the Cuban Missile Crisis as a teen, I have had an alertness to what I sensed was God’s restraining power in world events – as well as personal ones. Speaking of this as “grace” puts that into a larger context for me.

  3. James,
    I recall the crisis vividly. I talked about it Sunday’s sermon which revolved around the same topic. To go from the Crisis to the fall of the Berlin Wall in ’89 is simply unimaginable grace – and those too young to have been there for both have no idea how unimaginable it was. But grace simply has this way of working – not really observable cause and effect. I know lots of people have their favorite characters to whom they would like to give credit for bringing down the wall. But I think they were all as surprised as the rest of us.

    Nor am I surprised at the various efforts (from both sides) that appear to want to be a wall up again, somewhere. That doesn’t quit either – and for that we can definitely cite players and causes.

  4. While I have no doubt that grace is at work, I wonder if/how often the evil we perceive simply redefines itself within the existing circumstances. It’s easy to see the impressive “big picture” hits and misses but I find that in the smaller, yet still significant, things in life there seems to be greater and greater evil at work.

    I don’t think many would consider our society to be one that is moving closer to God. We are, however, becoming a much safer society–and too many people seem to think that is an indicator of us being close to god or God, depending on how they see things. My personal belief is that safety is a false indicator.

    Your phrase, “The Second Coming is an intervention in the worst of the worst of times.” rings very true, although I believe we are yet quite far from “the worst of times”. Just my thoughts and perhaps a bit of a tangent (my apologies for that).

  5. If 2/3 of the angels fell – how is it that the world doesn’t spin out of control? Fr Seraphim: “The monks have one goal – how to get closer to God. Every day a thousand Divine Liturgies are celebrated on the peninsula (Mt Athos.) It is unique in the world and in the Orthodox Church.” The Divine Liturgy where Heaven and Earth are united, “For the life of the World”

  6. Father Stephen…
    Your article reminded me of several frightening aspects of growing up in the 50’s and 60’s. I recall the Weekly Reader reminding us to ” duck and cover” in case of an atomic attack! If that wouldn’t scare the socks off a 10 year old. About that same time bomb shelters were for sale in the local mall parking lot. I was 16 when our art teacher told us to go home and listen to President Kennedy as he was going to give a serious
    speech over the Cuban missile crisis ( not fully appreciating how ominous the situation really was) but still being anxious. As you write, God’s grace was at work in all these events just as it is today, despite all the evil on the news. Only yesterday I mentioned in our study of the gospel how at least twice a year, on local news, a loved one or parent will arise in court and publicly forgive the drunk driver who killed their child or a wife will tearfully forgive the murderer of her husband. Unexpected grace working through words of heart rending forgiveness.

  7. I get worried about this word ‘Evil’. Especially the phrase ‘so much evil in the world’ that one hears everyday. It goes a bit like this:

    1) if someone does something depicable because of missplaced faith, is that evil?
    2) if someone, knowing it is wrong, knowingly does something despicable, is that evil?

    Seems to me that the Isil jihaddist’s, for example, fall into category (1) for the most part; but I, an addict, fall into category (2). Yet, we are both still here, and both get fed every day. Is it the deed that is evil, or the perpetrator?

    It seems to me, Father, that being Orthodox Christians, we are sensitized to see things quite differently that the rest of humanity. We can’t condemn them, we can’t even judge them, but we are very aware of the motes in our own eyes.

    Sbdcn Richard, Keswick, UK.

  8. Subdcn Richard…
    Indeed we are not to judge others and God does give rain to the righteous and unrighteous. And he is kind to the ungrateful and selfish. As to your question about the perpetrator or evil deed. Christ says in Matthew 15:19 that out of the heart come evil thoughts, etc. And our Lord adds in John 3:19…” And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than the light, because their deeds were evil.” So do I see sin in my own heart? Yes, when I look quietly and intently, I do. And I need to repent. However, we are to walk as children of light and as St. Paul exhorts…”Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.” So no, we do not judge others, but there are truly evil deeds in the world.
    God, forgive me a sinner.

  9. Could it also be that evil is always at a disadvantage because the universe is configured for good? (Gen. 1:31) Sort of like running a standard car on ethanol. It works for a while but you pay for it in the end.

  10. This article, coupled with the one Raphael linked mentioned above, are heavenly gold. Keep up the good work daddy (more affectionate than father). There is a spirit of harlotry binding us in its wings when we rush into the battlefield with each other. When a preacher, in my tradition, feeds his flock, the flock declare “may God permit you to listen to his life-granting words.” And thus, I declare it to you.

  11. Richard, there is a darkness that feeds on and exalts in pain, destruction and death all the while worshipping nothingness.

    It is a totally unnatural part of the human heart and resides there only because we have learned to prefer slavery and death more than life

    As Father has pointed out this darkness has no real existence. Its power comes from each of our fears and each unwillingness we have to walk in the light.

    The Heart of Darkness exists in each of us. For most it lies largely passive expressing in little seemingly insignificant even vacuous ways when we allow ourselves satisfaction in anything other than the love of God and the intimacy that love produces.

    Those who actually embrace the darkness actively seek to destroy themselves and or others. The destructive will is a perversion of the kenotic will of God.

    The more we seek the good for others the more we fulfill the requirements for entry into the Kingdom now and in the world to come.

    May our Lord lead us and keep us safe from temptation.

  12. Father,

    In addition to Grace, I feel that there is something else at work. Failure is a hallmark of Evil as the adversary destroys even his followers.

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