samedi, juin 21, 2014

Dooyeweerd: Common Grace

Common Grace
In its revelation of the fall into sin, the Word of God penetrates through to the root and the religious center of human nature. The fall meant apostasy from God in the heart and soul, in the religious center and spiritual root, of humankind. Apostasy from the absolute source of life signified spiritual death. The fall into sin was indeed radical and swept with it the entire temporal world precisely because the latter finds its religious root-unity only in humankind. Every conception that involves a denial of this radical meaning of the fall into sin stands squarely in opposition to the scriptural ground-motive. This is so even if it hangs on to the term "radical", as, for example, the great humanist thinker Kant did in his discourse on the "radical evil" (Radikal-böse) in the human being. Any conception that entails a denial of the biblical meaning of radical knows neither the real human being, nor God, nor the depth of sin. 

    The revelation of the fall, however, does not signify the recognition of an autonomous, self-determining principle of origin in juxtaposition to the Creator. Sin exists only in a false relation to God and is therefore never independent of the Creator. If there were no God there could be no sin. The possibility of sin, as the apostle Paul profoundly expressed it, was initially created by God's law. Without the law which commands good there could be no evil. But the same law makes it possible for the creature to exist. Without the law the human being would sink into nothingness; the law determines that person's humanity. Since sin therefore has no self-determining existence of its own over against God the Creator, it is not able to introduce an ultimate dualism into creation. The origin of creation is not twofold. Satan himself is a creature, who, in his created freedom, voluntarily fell away from God.

    The divine Word — through which all things were created, as we learn from the prologue to the Gospel of John — became flesh in Jesus Christ. It entered into the root and temporal expressions, into heart and life, into soul and body of human nature; and for this very reason it brought about a radical redemption: the rebirth of humankind and, in it, of the entire created temporal world which finds in humankind its center.

   By his creating Word, through which all things were made and which became flesh as Redeemer, God also upholds the fallen world through his "common grace", that is the grace given to the community of humankind as a whole, without distinction between regenerate and apostate people. For also those who have been redeemed continue, in their sinful nature, to be part of fallen humankind. Through common grace the spread of sin is held at bay and the universal demonization of humankind is restrained so that everywhere sparks of God's Light of might, goodness, truth, righteousness, and beauty may shine even in cultures directed by apostasy. Earlier we already pointed to the significance of Roman civil law as an example of the fruit of common grace. 

    In his common grace God first of all upholds the ordinances of his creation and through them he maintains "human nature". These ordinances are the same for Christians and non-Christians. God's common grace is evident in that even the most antigodly rulers must continually bow and capitulate before God's decrees if they are to see enduring positive results from their labors. But wherever these ordinances in their diversity within time are not grasped and obeyed in the light of their religious root (the religious love commandment of service to God and neighbour), such veritable capitulation or subjection to these ordinances remains incidental and piecemeal. Thus apostate culture always reveals a disharmony arising out of an idolatrous absolutization of certain aspects of God's creation at the cost of other, equally essential, aspects.

    God's common grace reveals itself not only in the upholding of his creation ordinances but also in the individual gifts and talents given by God to specific people. Great statesmen, thinkers, artists, inventors, etc. can be of relative blessing to humankind in temporal life, even if the direction of their lives is ruled by the spirit of apostasy. In this too one sees how blessing is mixed with curse, light with darkness.

    In all of this it is imperative to understand that "common grace" does not weaken or eliminate the antithesis (opposition) between the ground-motive of the Christian religion and the apostate ground-motives.  Common grace, in fact, can be understood only on the basis of the antithesis. It began with the promise made in paradise that God would put enmity between the seed of the serpent and the seed of the woman from which the Christ would be born. The religious root of common grace is Christ Jesus himself, who is its King, apart from whom God would not look upon his fallen creation with grace. 

    There should no longer be any difference of opinion concerning this matter in Reformational-Christian circles. For if one tries to conceive of common grace apart from Christ by attributing it exclusively to God as creator, then one drives a wedge in the Christian ground-motive between creation and redemption. Then one introduces an internal split within the Christian ground-motive, through which it loses its radical and integral character. (Radical and integral here mean: everything is related to God in its religious root.) Then one forgets that common grace is shown to all humankind — and in humankind to the whole temporal world — as a still undivided whole, solely because humankind is redeemed and reborn in Christ and also because humankind embraced in Christ still shares in fallen human nature until the fulfilment of all things. 

    But in Christ's battle against the kingdom of darkness, Christ's kingship over the entire domain affected by common grace is integral and complete. For this reason, it is in common grace that the spiritual antithesis assumes its character of embracing the whole of temporal life. That God lets the sun rise over the just and the unjust, that he grants gifts and talents to believers and unbelievers alike — all this is not grace for the apostate individual, but for all of humankind in Christ. It is gratia communis, common grace rooted in the Redeemer of the world.

    The reign of common grace will not cease until the final judgment at the close of history, when the reborn creation will be liberated from its participation in the sinful root of human nature and will sparkle with the highest perfection through the communion of the Holy Spirit. Then God's righteousness will radiate even in Satan and in the wicked as a confirmation of the absolute sovereignty of the Creator.

    Shown to God's fallen creation as a still undivided totality, the revelation of God's common grace guards the truly scriptural Christian community against sectarian "high-mindedness" which leads some Christians to flee from the world and reject without further ado whatever arises in western culture outside of the immediate influence of religion. Sparks of the original glory of God's creation still shine in every phase of culture, to a greater or lesser degree, even if its development has occurred under the guidance of apostate spiritual powers. Humankind cannot deny this without being guilty of gross ingratitude.

     It is the will of God that we have been born in western culture, just as Christ appeared in the midst of a Jewish culture in which Greco-Roman influences were evident on all sides. But, as we said earlier, this can never mean that the radical antithesis between Christian and apostate ground-motives loses its force in the "area of common grace". The manner in which scriptural Christianity must be enriched by the fruits of classical and humanistic culture can only be a radical and critical one. Christians must never absorb the ground-motive of an apostate culture into their lives and thoughts. They must never strive to synthesize or bridge the gap between an apostate ground-motive and the ground-motive of the Christian religion. Finally, they must never deny that the antithesis, from out of the religious root, cuts directly through the issues of temporal life.

(Herman Dooyeweerd: Roots of Western Thought: Pagan, Secular, and Christian Options, Paideia Press 2012, p 36-39)