What do you see when you look at your neighbor? Do you see his dodgy business dealings, his chaotic garage, his overgrown lawn, his marital tiffs, and his bad language?
Is that all you see? Is there nothing good you can think of?
What about the time he helped you start your car that icy morning? What about his devotion to his wife (despite their noisy arguments)? Or his kindness to your children? Or his heroic service in Operation Desert Storm?
Are these qualities not worth pondering and appreciating?
Barking boss and complaining customers
Now let’s get in the SUV and go to your workplace. Right, what do you see there?
A barking boss, cheating colleagues, complaining customers, and unreliable computers?
Is that all you see? I know it’s all you talk about when you come home every night. But are you seeing the whole picture? Is there no one with any skill or talent? Does everyone treat everyone like dirt every day? Are there no kind words or actions in the rest zone or staff room? Think of all that the machines and computers do accomplish each day. Do customers never express appreciation?
Seriously ask yourself, challenge yourself, are you seeing the whole picture? Or are you overlooking or ignoring a number of benefits and blessings in your workplace?
Damaging and deliberate blindness
If I’ve just described you at home or at work, then you are closing your eyes, ears, and minds to the grace of God, which is not only a serious sin, but it’s also incredibly damaging to you.
“Never!” you retort. “I deeply appreciate God’s grace, I talk about it all the time. But these people and places are just sinful. They have no idea of God’s grace. The people are lost and going to hell. The places are fallen and decaying and destined for everlasting burning. I know God’s grace when I see it, and it ain’t anywhere to be found over the fence or in the factory.”
I agree that these people and places are marred by sin and misery; without salvation, they are doomed. And yet, and yet, I insist that you are choosing not to see the grace of God in these people and places. I’m not talking about God’s saving grace of course, but about what is often called His common grace.
Saving grace is reserved for God’s people alone and results in their salvation and sanctification. Common grace, is experienced by everyone to one degree or another, and although this results in signifcant benefits and blessings in everyone’s lives, it does not save nor sanctify anyone.
Common grace includes all the gifts and blessings God distributes to everyone (hence “common”) and His restraining of evil in us and around us. All of that, the positive giving and the negative restraining, is grace, because it’s God dealing with His creatures in mercy, not justice. As John Murray put it: “Common grace is every favour of whatever kind or degree, falling short of salvation, which this undeserving and sin-cursed world enjoys at the hand of God.”
Deny and downplay sin?
I don’t want to deny or downplay sin and its terrible impact on our world and its people, on our neighbors and family. However, if all we see in these areas is sin and misery, we’re closing our eyes to God’s work of grace all over the world and all around us. Yes, God’s common grace is really that common; it extends to all places and all people. There’s no inch or milimeter, tribe or people, neighbor or son, where His grace is not found to some degree.
If we do shut out common grace we’re also shutting down worship and joy, because the more we recognize God’s common grace, the more we will worship God and the more joy we will have in our lives. Common grace produces common worship and common joy. It will change the way we look at everyone and everyplace. Instead of just looking for evidence of sin, usually not hard to find, we will also look for evidence of God’s work, and rejoice in it. We will be less suspicious and cynical, more open to beauty, more enthusiastic to praise and appreciate God and His works.
It may sound more pious to only focus on the sin and lostness of people. But if we do that, if we exclude from view God’s work in, through, and around them, we are shutting our eyes to a beautiful part of God’s daily work and we are missing an opportunity to worship Him for His gracious work.
To help us prise open our eyes and hearts to God’s common grace, let’s start by renaming it. “Common” sounds so, well, common. It could be read and heard in a demeaning way, as if it’s grace that’s not worth much, cheap grace as it were. So let’s call it “everywhere grace.” I toyed with the idea of calling it “everywhere love” as love is easier for most people to understand than grace. However, love can be deserved; grace, by definition, can never be deserved. As we need to preserve the “underserving” nature of this, let’s just call it “everywhere grace.” And let it lead to everywhere worship and everywhere joy.
Next: God’s Every-Animal Grace
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