Common grace. This is what I taught my third and fourth graders on the Wednesday night before I went on vacation. Little did I know that God was going to use our vacation to teach me more about common grace.
Question 27 of The New City Catechism asks “Are all people, just as they were lost through Adam, saved through Christ?” The answer is “No, only those who are elected by God and united to Christ by faith. Nevertheless God in his mercy demonstrates common grace even to those who are not elect, by restraining the effects of sin and enabling works of culture for human well-being.”
This question was the basis for our lesson. Of course, we discussed election and salvation through Christ alone by faith alone, but I wanted to make sure that we talked about God’s gift of common grace to all people, both lost and saved, for the good of all people. I wanted to make sure that they understood that God gives all men the ability to appreciate His good gifts and that because He created all men in His image, they are all blessed with a huge variety of creative capabilities.
We talked about doctors who heal our diseases. Must doctors be Christians to be able to heal us? Of course not! Must police officers be Christians to be able to keep us safe? No again. Must the carpet-cleaning man be a Christian to be able to properly clean our carpet? Naturally not. God blesses us with gifted people, both Christian and non-Christian, who make our lives better every day. Both Christians and non-Christians benefit from God’s gifts. Common grace.
The kids got it. Lesson over. Home to finish packing.
But God wasn’t done teaching me.
One of the main goals for our vacation was to see the California Redwoods. I’m sure that I will never forget my first impression on walking into a grove of redwoods. The size was completely overwhelming, but added to that was the exquisite aroma and the perfect silence. The silence was akin to the quiet I experienced as a child walking into the church sanctuary on a Sunday morning – the silence that only tolerates the tiniest of whispers. Once that impression passed I wanted to laugh and ask God what in the world He was thinking when He created such majestic, overweening specimens of His creative genius. Surely He must have laughed to think of our reaction to these giants!
And then I remembered that He made these wonderful trees for all men to enjoy. Common grace.
We delighted in many more of God’s creations in the coming days – ocean waves and strange rock formations and gorgeous rivers and looming mountains. All given for all men to enjoy. Common grace.
I got it. I understood God’s common grace. Or I thought I did.
Until we got to Portland, Oregon where another highly anticipated stop on the trip awaited us. Powell’s City of Books. Yes, a giant bookstore. As I walked through the many different rooms and marveled at floor-to-ceiling books, I thought about the people behind all those books – authors and editors and publishers and printers and booksellers. All gifted by God to bring ideas and information and pleasure to people everywhere and throughout time.
Were they all Christians? No, but they were all created in the image of God to be creative just as He is. Common grace.
One more lesson remained to be learned on the Columbia River on a riverboat.
Part of the trip required that our riverboat should navigate through the Cascades Lock. I’d read about locks but had never seen one in operation. I can’t give you official terms or measurements but I can tell you that the lock was much bigger than I anticipated. Several ships could fit into it at a time. The crew tied our boat up to the lock and then we waited. The captain explained that the huge gates behind us would close and then the water would be let out of the lock just as if we were letting the water out of a giant bathtub. The whole process would take about twelve minutes.
It happened just as he said. We could even see a huge swirl of water just like in the bathtub when the water goes down the drain. I couldn’t stop watching and wondering how men ever dreamed up such an amazing and useful invention on such an incredibly huge scale. How? An even more amazing God gifted them with the knowledge and understanding and inventiveness to do it. Common grace.
Timothy Keller says this about common grace:
…we must appreciate the common grace that God gives across the whole human race. We must see that God is helping us and helping in the world through many people who do not believe. We need to appreciate those. We must be grateful for them, and we must respect them. That’s the balance that we must strike.
In a time when our society is finding more and more reasons to be divided and to suspect each other, Christians need to grab onto truths like this which enable us to view our fellow men and women as people made in the image of God, gifted to be a blessing to all men, loved by their Creator God, and worthy of our love and respect as well.
One of the things I love the most about being a grandmother is the very personal, very special bond that is built between me and a little grandchild. I am learning that one of the marks of that bond is our own little subset of language.
For instance, I’ve been reading books to my granddaughter, Aria, almost from the moment she was born. But one day we discovered something new. I told her a story about myself, from when I was a little girl.
Aria was delighted and asked for more.
The next time I saw her, she said, “Tell me a story from your mouth.” I had never heard that particular request before but went to the cupboard to pick out a book to read.
“No, Gigi, tell me a story from your mouth!”
“But, Aria, what is a story from my mouth?”
“A story about you when you were little.” (Imagine her answers with a toddler’s lisp!)
“Oh, that kind of story!” And we were off with me remembering stories from my childhood – stories that would interest a toddler and Aria listening closely and endlessly asking for more.
I’ve told her stories about my grandparents and about my brothers and sisters and about Christmases past and on and on and on.
Now Aria is five years old and we’ve discovered a new category of “stories from my mouth”. These are any kind of a story that I tell without a book. Our favorites are Little Red Riding Hood and The Three Little Pigs. I’ve told these two stories countless times, but she never gets tired of them. Perhaps because each time I add more and more details and the stories get longer and more dramatic each time. And yes, the stories are rather violent but in our telling grandma never gets eaten and the wolf always gets his just desserts.
How long will Aria ask for stories from my mouth? I don’t know, but I’ll enjoy it while she does. And maybe, I’ll be able to convince her little brother Vince to listen. And maybe when we go to visit Lucy and her little brother, Jon, they’ll be ready for a story from Gigi’s mouth.
But always, those storytelling times will be one of my sweetest memories of grandmothering my little people.
Today’s post originated from a Five Minute Friday writing prompt. Click here to read more or to join in with your own story.
I have no choice. I had no choice when I was taken from Egypt and I have no choice now. Have I ever really had a choice of my own?
Not even my life or my own body belongs to me. I have no choice in what I will do with either my life or my body. I should have known that when I was taken from my mother and given to Sarai, but I didn’t. It only came home to me that I was not my own the day Sarai gave me to her husband.
I know that she wanted a child – more than anything, but why didn’t she ask her God? Was He angry with her? Was He powerless? Maybe she should have tried Isis or Amun or Heget. Surely one of our gods would have given her a child of her own.
Instead, she decided to use me, her slave, to get what she wanted. She did not explain. She did not ask. She did not see that I was frightened to be alone in that way with the master. I was only a girl, but she simply saw a vessel that belonged to her and that could deliver what she wanted.
And so it was.
What Sarai had waited for…what Sarai had hoped for…was happening inside me so easily and so quickly.
I should not have done what I did. I knew she could have me killed. After all, I belong to her. But I couldn’t help myself. She had used me and now I was carrying the child she wanted so badly. Her old body was useless while mine was young and strong and fertile. In a thousand little ways, I let her know what I thought about her and her ridiculous hopes and I flaunted my belly which was quickly becoming round with her husband’s baby.
Any fool could have predicted Sarai’s decision to complain to Abram, but I was more than a fool. I thought that Abram would spare me because of his child. I forgot it was only the offspring of a slave girl. He didn’t want to be bothered with a squabble between women. I was Sarai’s slave and she could do what she liked with me.
And so she put me out to go who knows where. Where is there to go in the wilderness when you are nothing but a useless, pregnant slave girl? No food, no water, no protection from the elements or wild animals or ruthless men?
Once again I had no choice because I was not my own.
Discarded by my mistress. Abused by my master.
Even a foolish slave could foresee the end.
Until…a voice…in the middle of nowhere, I heard a voice and it said my name.
Do you understand? The voice spoke my name. My hands still shake when I think of it. The voice – it was the angel of the Lord – knew me…me – a lost and rejected slave girl.
He asked, “Where are you going?”
A question I couldn’t really answer – just away from my mistress. As far away from her as I could get.
And then he made a request that should have seemed impossible to me, but somehow it didn’t.
“Go back to your mistress and submit to her.”
If anyone else had said it, I would have turned away in disgust. Or I would have protested. I would have said, “You don’t know my mistress. She will kill me if I go back. I can’t go back. I won’t!”
I didn’t say or do any of those things. I only listened to his words.
“I will surely multiply your offspring so that they cannot be numbered for multitude. Behold, you are pregnant and shall bear a son. You shall call his name Ishmael, because the LORD has listened to your affliction. He shall be a wild donkey of a man, his hand against everyone and everyone’s hand against him, and he shall dwell over against all his kinsmen.”
Before that moment I had only scoffed at the God of Abram and Sarai, but now I knew this was His voice. The LORD! And He knew me! He listened to me. He knew my child that was yet to be born. And we were His – His to look after and to care for.
The God who sees me.
I am still not my own, but it no longer matters. It is actually good because the One to whom I belong sees me. He told me to go back and so I can. I know I am safe in His care.
As I turn my feet back in the direction of Abram’s camp I know that my troubles are not over. My mistress will not be happy to see me. Nothing has really changed…
Nothing except that now I know that I am not my own because I belong to the God who sees me.
This is the fifth story in the series: Through Her Eyes. Click here to find the rest of the series.