This is a theological question! From reading your blog I sense you are a Christian?
Well, most of my personal theology comes from what I learned in the the 12 Steps. I consider myself a Christian and so I have in the past few years taken to attending bible studies at both very liberal but also conservative churches. Trying to cover all bases in my research.
So here’s where I get tripped up. I keep running into the concept of predestination, or also referred to as Election. That it is to say that by grace alone that we are saved. Only some are chosen and actions seems to have little merit. However, from my 12 step readings I could never accept that view. Faith in action is all important!
Phenomenal question. You must be a teacher or professor, or if not, would make an excellent one. Imagine a teacher who actually asks question as opposed to shoving their personal ideology down their student’s throats!
Wait, what is a liberal church? Is that an oxymoron? (kidding, kidding…) Yes, I am a Christian, though not a very good one. I consider myself to be seriously flawed, but I do try, and more importantly, I want to be a better man than I am. One of my favorite prayers is, “God, make me a better man today.”
First, try to not to worry about it too much. Obviously we must work hard and act along with the power of God, as we certainly feel the effects of what we do and don’t do. So action and grace are certainly connected, that is, one may induce the other, or perhaps both were meant to be as they seem to act symbiotically in most cases. But let’s have a discussion nonetheless, especially since it gives me something to write about.
The way I see it is that the two are not necessarily in conflict. That is, we are saved by both action and grace. I’d like to believe that those who are restored to sanity and find God have been both chosen AND have secured grace through action or works. I guess I should defer to my own experience, as that is all I know. Certainly I was touched one night and restored to sanity. I found God and became committed to God because I felt His presence and mind-blowing, limitless Power. So I was perhaps chosen to have this experience, but also may have helped to induce this event by way of the action I took.
But perhaps me finally taking action was blueprinted as well. Perhaps nothing could have changed what has happened in my life. I mean, whatever is happening is on some level meant to happen simply by virtue of it happening. And then even the action I took was most certainly powered by God. So the credit goes to God for not only powering me but for also reaching out to briefly touch me, thereby instantly fixing my broken mind. At the same time, it seems there is little doubt, whether blueprinted or not, that I also recovered as a result of hard work and a sincere desire to find God and change.
James 2:14-26 famously said, “Faith without works is dead.” So do we not expand or even establish our connection to God proportional to our works? But then what about grace? I reconcile the two by assuming they are both part of the same fate, that both the action and the election, if you will, are inseparable – that the action itself is the election, that I had no choice and would have acted no matter what in order to find God, establish the relationship, and induce the miracle that occurred that night up North. Do you see? Perhaps me choosing to finally act was no choice at all but rather simply God intervening in my life. Therefore, both my action and being restored were fated all along.
Sure that may piss some people off, but it’s probably true. Sorry, but those who recover are meant to recover, especially since they are recovering. They are chosen, in a sense, to do this work and find God. Now, sadly, some may work hard for grace and fail (although I find that hard to believe if the work and the desire are sincere). I can’t see into anyone’s heart, but I do know many who seemingly took steps earnestly and never “got it,” if you will. Conversely, I know others who seemingly half-assed it and were touched profoundly and now have rock-solid faith, help tons of people and will never use again.
This is where we must to defer to God and a much higher intelligence, one that may far exceed the limits of our understanding. Perhaps those who do not recover were not meant to recover in this life but perhaps in the next, or on some other spiritual level after death. Who knows. I certainly don’t. Perhaps they were not meant to recover in part to teach some lesson to yet others. I feel as though control is an illusion, though we’d all like to think it is real, that we can actually control things, especially things that lie outside of ourselves, even natural cycles and what have you, cycles that govern the universe and our entire existence. Ridiculous. Control will be ripped from us like a thief in the night. I think the hardest truth of this is for us parents, that we cannot control our children. We must give even them over to God.
So when push comes to shove, Grace (i.e. the power of God) supercedes action or merit. God is (obviously) (much) more powerful and will choose some and perhaps deny others. I can’t fathom this or presume to know the workings or the power or the intellect of something so beyond human faculty. So while action no doubt helps your chances and may induce a miracle, it is God and God alone who gives grace – who restores, who saves.
To see the truth, I think it’s important to sort of climb a figurative mountain and look down on everything from a larger view in order to gain true perspective. And I believe that when we step back and look from a larger view, we will probably see that whether we are chosen or not was all part of our blueprint. It is very hard, if not altogether impossible, to force our will regarding the longer-term. On some level, there seems little possibility in changing our ultimate fate. So even though I was a total shithead junkie, it was my fate to be restored and find God and nothing could have prevented the Universe from somehow conspiring to make that happen. Does this make sense?
People will say, “No Charlie, you had a lot to do with it and you got yourself better! Why don’t you give credit where credit is due?” In fact, I used to speak at regional parent’s groups and many of the parents would say just that. They wanted to believe that I got myself better because it seems more likely for their own child than a miracle occurring. I would tell them that hard work and miracles are kind of two sides of the same coin. I mean, it’s hard to witness a miracle when you’re sitting on your ass, jammed out of your skull on methadone… no? So I would reply to them, “Sorry, no, I didn’t get myself better. It was God and God alone. Sure I did some work but the credit goes in full to God for actually changing me and restoring me to sanity.”
One way or the other, God conspired to alter my life such that I received grace. And even the action I took was somehow willed and powered by God. Thus, I probably had no choice in the matter, and furthermore, to think we are all-powerful and to take credit for everything we do (for recovering, for our blessings) is arrogant and is just the sort of delusional, narcissistic frame of mind that gets us into trouble to begin with. Does that make sense? The point is that no matter what happens, our ultimate predestined fate will most likely occur no matter what, and though our actions may lead up to it, they are not ultimately responsible for the actual grace itself.
Nothing is random. Grace will happen if grace is going to happen, whether I take action or not. BUT, I also assume that grace will not occur, or it is predetermined NOT to occur to those who refuse to do the work and take right action. Selfishness and sin pushes us further from God, not closer, so it would be hard to fathom someone being restored or chosen who is a pathological monster.
P.S. The James 2:14-26 passage raises another important issue, which is that belief really doesn’t matter. We can believe whatever the heck we want to believe and I don’t think it secures us anything, nor does it make us who we are. If we believe something but have no love and no mercy and no moral decency, our belief is obviously empty and therefore meaningless. Belief only becomes something real when it is paralleled with harmonious action, action based on principles which define or characterize that belief.
I thought I was a spiritual person when I got to rehab and then a recovered staffer looked at me at said, “I would question that.” Lol. At first it annoyed me but then the lightbulb went off. Um, yeah, you cannot be a spiritual person and simultaneously a self-absorbed junkhead with a worried sick, heart-broken mom in a fetal position unable to sleep at night.
So there are many who believe but whom God is entirely absent in their lives and in their minds and hearts. Belief doesn’t really matter compared to what we do. And those who don’t believe but who take right, moral action will surely come to know God, sooner or later, I suspect. So anyway, I think that’s what I think… for now anyway 😉 What does your gut and your experience tell you?