Amazing Grace

by

Perhaps the most subtle verbal sleights of hand are acts of equivocation. Equivocation is when we use one word, but with two different meanings. The change happens so fast we miss the palmed meaning, and are made fools. The classic illustration is in this syllogism — God is love. Love is blind. Ray Charles is blind. Therefore Ray Charles is God. Something isn’t right there, and what it is, is shifting meanings.

It is when dealing with pronouns that we face the toughest temptation. Antecedents get lost in a sea of pronouns, and soon enough we not only don’t know what he said but don’t know who he is. And where confusion abounds, there you will find the devil. It is one of his favorite weapons.

Consider for a moment the wisdom in the Bible about loving one another. Love is indeed a dominant theme in the Bible. The Bible is so full of injunctions to love that we in turn have great difficulty reconciling that teaching with this: “Oh Lord, dash their heads against the rocks.” The Bible, in addition to sundry summons to love, includes what we call imprecatory psalms, wherein the psalmist calls down God’s judgment on His enemies. Read through Moses’ celebration of the deliverance of the people and the destruction of Pharaoh’s army, and you probably won’t feel the love. How do these things cohere? Lest you think the solution is a division between the old and new covenants, give a read to Paul in thundering against the Judaizers in Galatians.

While it is true that there is a kind of love we are called to toward those outside the kingdom, (that is, we are called to love our enemy), that in turn matches a kind of love God Himself has for His enemies (the love of benevolence). By the same token, we are called to love discriminatingly. We have different kinds of loves for different kinds of people. I love my wife one way, and I love my neighbor an entirely different way. We have missed this, because our enemy has confused us on the pronouns. The Bible’s call that “we” love “one another” isn’t ultimately about man’s call to love man. The “we” isn’t human beings, but the redeemed.

Those wolves in the church, liberal clerics and theologians, began this sleight of hand when they first spoke of the “universal fatherhood of God and the universal brotherhood of man.” The idea, as with so many from this particular pit of hell, became eventually accepted wisdom in the evangelical church. It operates under the assumption that God has a duty to treat all people exactly the same way, an assumption that the Bible explicitly denies: “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy” (Rom. 9:15). There is no getting around the fact that God did not treat Esau as He treated Jacob, and this before either had been born. And He does not treat the seed of the serpent the same way He treats us, the seed of the woman.

Why not? What accounts for the difference? The answer is simple enough — our union with Christ. Pardon the confusing pronouns, but while we love Him because He first loved us, He first loved us because He first loved Him.

We are in ourselves, just like the seed of the serpent, merely dust and rebellion. But in Christ we are altogether lovely. It is not for mere pity that He loves us, but for His Son.

But what of His love for the lost? If they are not in union with Christ, why would they be loved at all? What would account for what the theologians call this “love of benevolence”? What accounts for this love, and the kindness that flows from it, bringing the rains upon the fields of the unjust, isn’t union with Christ, but is the image of God. There is, in short, something lovely about the lost, the very remnants of the image of pure loveliness. What God loves in the reprobate isn’t the reprobate, isn’t the Son, but is Himself, something indeed worthy of His love.

And we who are in union with Christ not only bear that same image, but are called to polish it, to improve upon it, to labor with the Holy Spirit that we might more and more reflect His glory. Which in turn means that we too ought to love the lost, for the very same reason. We love one another with a holy love, because we are together in union with Christ. But we love outside the circle of the kingdom because they yet maintain the fragments of the image of God. In their depravity, they do everything they can to smash that mirror to ever tinier pieces. Indeed their degeneration is nothing more than leaving that image behind until finally, at their death, they reach the mirror-image of glorification and reach utter horror. They become nothing but dust and rebellion, enveloped in eternal flame.

But not here and not now. Ironically, it is for His love for us that He shows them kindness. If He released the restraints, we would find ourselves living in a living hell. But by His grace toward us, He restrains them, and He kindly showers them with His beneficent love. In His grace toward us, He teaches us our pronouns, so that like Him we too would love His sheep as His sheep, and love the goats for the image of the shepherd.

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