Category Archives: Grace

The Evil Eye of Bookkeeping

It is the evil eye, you see – the ὀφθαλμός πονηρός, the eye that loves the darkness of its bookkeeper’s black ink, the eye that cannot stand the red ink of unsuccess as it appears in the purple light of grace – that is condemned here. Bookkeeping is the only punishable offense in the kingdom of heaven. For in that happy state, the books are ignored forever, and there is only the Book of life. And in that book, nothing stands against you. There are no debit entries that can keep you out of the clutches of the Love that will not let you go. There is no minimum balance below which the grace that finagles all accounts will cancel your credit. And there is, of course, no need for you to show large amounts of black ink, because the only Auditor before whom you must finally stand is the Lamb – and he has gone deaf, dumb, and blind on the cross. The last may be first and the first last, but that’s only for the fun of making the point: everybody is on the payout queue and everybody gets full pay. Nobody is kicked out who wasn’t already in; the only bruised backsides belong to those who insist on butting themselves into outer darkness.

For if the world could have been saved by bookkeeping, it would have been saved by Moses, not Jesus. The law was just fine. And God gave it a good thousand years or so to see if anyone could pass a test like that. But when nobody did – when it became perfectly clear that there was “no one who was righteous, not even one” (Romans 3:10; Psalm 14:1-3), that “both Jews and Gentiles alike were all under the power of sin” (Romans 3:9) – God gave up on salvation by the books. He cancelled everybody’s records in the death of Jesus and rewarded us all, equally and fully, with a new creation in the resurrection of the dead.

And therefore the only adverse judgment that falls on the world falls on those who take their stand on a life God cannot use rather than on the death he can. Only the winners lose, because only the losers can win: the reconciliation simply cannot work any other way. Evil cannot be gotten out of the world by reward and punishment: that just points up the shortage of sheep and turns God into one more score-evening goat. The only way to solve the problem of evil is for God to do what in fact he did: to take it out of the world by taking it into himself – down into the forgettery of Jesus’ dead human mind – and to close the books on it forever. That way, the kingdom of heaven is for everybody; hell is reserved only for the idiots who insist on keeping nonexistent records in their heads.

Robert Farrar Capon, “Kingdom, Grace, Judgment”, page 396

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What A Preacher Sees After the Sermon

As I said, when I preach something [purely grace-focused], I get two reactions. At the end of the sermon, I see smiles. I see faces light up – faces which, in spite of a lifetime’s exposure to the doctrine of grace, seem for the first time to dare to hope that maybe there isn’t a catch to it after all, that even out of the midst of their worst shipwrecks they are still going home free for the pure and simple reason that Jesus calls them. I see barely restrained hilarity at the sudden perception that he really meant it when he said his yoke is easy and his burden light.

But after the sermon, in the time it takes to get downstairs to coffee hour, the smiles have been replaced by frowns. Their fear of the catch has caught up with them again, and they surround the messenger of hope and accuse me of making the world unsafe for morality.

I propose, therefore, that you and I stop our progress at this point and do justice to the frowning, coffee-hour mood that my parable of grace has put you in.

– Robert Farrar Capon, Between Noon and Three: Romance, Law, and the Outrage of Grace

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Heaven Is Miller Time

Just before Jesus launches into the payout sequence in this parable [Matthew 20:1-16], he says, “ὀψίας δὲ γενομένης, when it was evening, the lord of the vineyard said to his steward….” I have an image for that. On Shelter Island, where I used to live, there is an odd local custom. Every Friday evening, at exactly five minutes of five, the fire siren goes off. For years, I wondered about it. What was the point? They tested the siren every day at noon, so it couldn’t be that. I even asked around, but nobody seemed to know a thing about it. Then one day it finally dawned on me: rather than run the risk that the festivity of the rural weekend by delayed even one minute beyond the drudgery of the working week, some gracious soul had decided to proclaim the party from the top of the firehouse – the 4:55 siren was the drinking siren. Miller Time on Shelter Island.

ὀψίας δὲ γενομένης. Heaven is Miller Time. Heaven is the party in the streaming sunlight of the world’s final afternoon. Heaven is when all the rednecks, and all the wood-butchers, and all the plumbers who never showed up – all the losers who never got anything right and all the winners who just gave up on winning – simply waltz up to the bar of judgment with full pay envelopes and get down to the serious drinking that makes the new creation go round. It is a bash that has happened, that insists upon happening, and that is happening now – and by the sweetness of its cassation, it drowns out all the party poopers in the world.

Heaven, in short, is fun. And if you don’t like that, Buster (ἑταῖρε), you can just go to…well, you’ll have to use your imagination.

You’ll need it: this is the only bar in town.

Robert Farrar Capon, “Kingdom, Grace, Judgment”, pages 396-397

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God Chooses the Broken

Chad Bird knocks it out of the park here.

The money quote:

You don’t have to fix yourself so you’re good enough for God. Christ loves you in your brokenness. His light shines through the cracks in your soul. His cross is for you, where He was broken to heal you, to cleanse you, to make you better than okay. In Christ not just your resume, but your whole body and soul are as pure as snow.

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