Theology and Grace
The longer I am working on this thesis, the more I realize the place of grace in theological reflection. Grace is one of those interesting concepts to consider. We often talk about it in our salvation (special grace) or in the way the rain falls on the righteous and the wicked (common grace). We call it God’s unmerited or even demerited favor. However, I wonder if we consider how from the very start, the very ability to know God, to do theology is a gracious act.
Herman Bavinck ,when describing theology, says that theology:
[D]escribes for us God, always God, from beginning to end—God in his being, God in his creation, God against sin, God in Christ, God breaking down all resistance through the Holy Spirit and guiding the whole of creation back to the objective he decreed for it: the glory of his name.
That is to say, the principle actor in theology is God. God graciously coming to us and revealing himself to us. Without God revealing himself, we could not know him. He is infinite and we are finite. The finite cannot reach up to grasp the infinite. It takes the infinite revealing himself and this revelation is a gracious act.
God has made this gracious self-revelation available in the writing of the Old and New Testament. Supremely this self-revelation is available in his Son (Hebrews 1:1-2). Once again this is a gracious act. For us to know who God is, we needed an objective standard. He has given this to us. He has ordained to write it down in Scripture. Scripture provides us the principle external means by which we know God. It is a gracious act of God that he has given this Word to us and preserved this Word generation after generation that we may know him and teach his ways to the next generation.
Without any volition of consciousness or will, we are placed in a world that is filled with rich blessings and we enter into the mighty inheritance of our ancestors. We stand upon their shoulders and enjoy what they acquired and brought together by the sweat of their brow. - Herman Bavinck
However, for us to understand and grasp anything, for the ability to do theology to be manifest in us, we need a work of the Holy Spirit. We need the Holy Spirit to work on us internally that we may behold the beauty of Christ as he reveals the Son to us in Scripture. The gracious work of the Spirit must be present in our lives illumining our eyes to see what is in the Word. God reveals himself in a real and objective way in the Scriptures, but there needs to be a real and subjective awakening in our lives for our hearts to be changed. Ultimately the point of God’s self-revelation is so that he could be known and glorified in all the earth.
The aim of theology, after all, can be no other than that the rational creature know God, and knowing him, glorify God. - Herman Bavinck
Theology from start to finish is an enterprise that takes place in the context of grace. God graciously revealing himself. God making that self-revelation objective in the person of Christ. God making that self-revelation subjective in the illumining work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. God’s grace is a disruptive act in our lives. It does not allow us to remain where it encountered us. Therefore, theology is a disruptive act in the world. It speaks prophetically because it speaks of God. It calls the world to know him and to be changed. God has made himself known to us and in making himself known to us he has given us himself.
What gift is greater than that of God himself? What more can he give than himself—himself with all his virtues and perfections, with his grace and wisdom, with his righteousness and omnipotence, with his immutability and faithfulness? For if God is for us, then who will be against us [Rom. 8:31]? Whatever we encounter, he is and remains ours, in distress and death, in living and dying, for time and eternity. Indeed, he is not the God of the dead but of the living [Mark 12:27; Luke 20:38]. Blessed are the people whose God is the Lord [Ps. 33:12]! - Herman Bavinck