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.