The Liberality of God

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1 Corinthians 13:12 (NIV) For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

In Paul’s first epistle to the church of Corinth, in chapter 13, we have the famous chapter on love. At the very end of this chapter Paul compares our understanding of God’s love to looking at our reflection in a dim mirror. Ancient mirrors were made of polished brass or other metals. The contrast is between the inadequate knowledge of an object gained by seeing it reflected in a dim mirror (such as ancient mirrors were), compared with the perfect idea we have of it by seeing itself directly (1). It’s the same concept as emphasized by him earlier in the same epistle when he quotes from Isaiah 64:4 (NIV) Since ancient times no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who acts on behalf of those who wait for him. The bottom-line is that God’s love is so infinitely great that it makes our most sincere love look like hate. Basically we cannot even begin to fathom the saving love of God. And the glimpses we see in life, are just that…they’re slivers, glimpses, reflections, but they don’t even come close to the unadulterated love of God.

I have been reading a book by the Swiss theologian Karl Barth entitled God Here Now. It is a compilation of talks and essays by Barth. Although, I do not agree with everything he wrote, I do appreciate the Christ-centeredness of his writings. The approach of his theology was to begin at Christ and branch out from there. I think we could learn a lot from that approach. I read something the other day my mind has been digesting ever since. It won’t let me escape, or maybe I won’t let it escape. It was a simple line, which said: The Lord God could be more liberal than we think or like. (2)

Barth is quick to dispel any idea that he is supporting an universalistic theology, (the idea that all people will be saved). That’s why he quickly states: Apokatastasis Panton? No, for a grace which automatically would ultimately have to embrace each and every one would certainly not be free grace. It surely would not be God’s grace. (3). Apokatastasis Panton means the restoration of all things. It is expressing the belief that every man will finally be saved. Barth rejects this, and so do I. Time and time again Barth reminds us that grace calls us into a decision of faith. Grace allows us no idleness, no neutrality, no standing aside. Grace allows no excuse because of our impotence, unworthiness, or sins. If grace demands a decision, the implication is that I can always choose to reject God’s grace.

However, 1 John 2:2 (ESV) says He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. The Greek construction here emphasizes that Christ is Himself the propitiation as well as the propitiatory. He is both priest and victim. (4). According to this verse God took the sins of every man, woman, and child and placed them upon the Savior. However, faith still demands a decision. I still have to choose to accept His gift of Grace. I have to let Him be my sacrifice otherwise at the judgment I will be standing, like Cain, with an imperfect sacrifice, unpleasing to God.

There are several definitions of liberal in the dictionary. Most of them deal with social issues. What do you think of when you hear the world liberal? You probably think of something political or religious, right? However, I believe, based on what Barth was writing about, the definition of liberality he was referring to was definition number 4 which says: given, used, or occurring in generous amounts. That definition still doesn’t give the liberality of God’s grace justice. Because He didn’t just give in generous amounts, but he gave infinitely sufficient amounts that if the whole world repented and accepted His grace, than the whole world would be saved.

At times it seems some of us are concerned that God’s grace might be too free. Maybe we’re afraid that hell, instead of being populated with great crowds, might be much smaller than anticipated. Maybe we think it is too free because we have been working so hard and all those brownie points we thought we had, don’t really exist. Maybe we mistake the gift of Grace with a warped since of entitlement; God has to save me because He’s love. However, that attitude is proof that one hasn’t accepted his grace. If I squander His grace in crazy, riotous, living I don’t see how that grace cost God His only Son. I am still serving as my own savior because I trust myself over Him. I am acting like I know what is better for me than the God that created me. People reject His grace two different ways: They work for it, or they squander it.

2 Peter 3:9 (ESV) says The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. That is the liberality of God. The liberality of God’s grace is massive. It is often our decision to let it change us that we limit.

Why would Barth say the Lord God could be more liberal than we think or like? Maybe it’s because we have such a hard time seeing that our salvation is not dependent on us, but Him. That if we could live perfect lives we wouldn’t need Christ. We are such a performance-based society we can’t imagine a love that can make up the difference of our shortcomings. In a society that always has strings attached, we question a love so unconditional that it was put in place before we were born. We hate the idea that the drunkard who has squandered his whole life may at that last moment encounter the gospel and be saved; or that the mean, judgmental, old man in the church pew may at that last moment encounter the gospel and be saved. We hate admitting that we can’t pull ourselves up from our bootstraps and save ourselves. So, heaven had to come down, in Jesus, to pull us up. That is the liberality of God. Maybe the Lord God is more liberal than we think or like. Because right now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. We forget that our greatest attempts of generosity look incredibly stingy in comparison to the generosity of God. The bottom-line: when Jesus comes and we finally see the unadulterated love of God. When we see the lengths He went to in order to save us, when we experience what He gave in heaven to redeem us, we will praise Him throughout eternity. We will praise him for the liberality of His love! We will fall down before him who is seated on the throne and worship him who lives forever and ever. We will cast our crowns before the throne, saying,” Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.” (Revelation 4:10-11 ESV).

Copyright 2013 Richie Halversen

(1) Jamieson, R., Fausset, A. R., & Brown, D. (1997). Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible (1 Co 13:12). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

(2) Barth, Karl. “God Here and Now.” Routledge, 2003

(3) Ibid

(4) Bible Commentary, Volume 7. 1980 (F. D. Nichol, Ed.) (636). Review and Herald Publishing Association.

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