What Do We Get Away With?

First a great quote from Shaun in the comments of the previous post:

The best of us are not nearly good enough and the worst of us are not bad enough that His grace can’t reach us.

As promised, a few quotes from Between Noon and Three (Robert Farrar Capon):

…they will not be discovered, ever…no other scandal than the divine foolishness by which the human race is assured that there is nothing it isn’t going to get away with…

In our fantasies, immorality can never be allowed to simply succeed; cosmic disapproval must be given the last word.

Whatever happens, the books are always balanced, the notes due called in, the mortgages foreclosed.

No, much as you and I prefer that sort of thing, I shall not give it to you.  First, because it is a strange preference, no matter how universal it is.

…however much we hate the law, we are more afraid of grace.

We do in fact get away with almost everything.

Grace cannot prevail…until our lifelong certainty that someone is keeping score has run out of steam and collapsed.

We insist on being reckoned with.

Honestly, this kind of blows me away.  I know that grace, mercy, and forgiveness are this extreme.  But I wonder if we ever get away with anything, if there is even such a concept for followers of Christ.  I guess I still believe that sin always destroys. Not that God reckons us with punishment, but that sin reckons us with soul destroying consequence.  Maybe I’m still hanging onto a measure of law or the need for guilt in that regard.  I don’t know.  I haven’t finished the book yet.

What do you think?

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19 thoughts on “What Do We Get Away With?

  1. Elbert Hubbard once said that we are not punished for our sins, but by them. I think this is true. The Law of God isn’t a divine set of party-poopers. It’s simply a statement of who God is, how His universe runs. He has given us the Law, not so much to stop our fun, but to save us from it. Breaking the Law of God is the same as breaking the natural laws (in so much as we could); there are consequences. I can no more get out of an affair unscathed than I could jump out a plane without a parachute. His grace is the only thing that could save us from those consequences. He has come to save us from ourselves.

  2. One thing I find, just about every-time the topic of the grace of God comes up. Folks try and find reasons why is couldn’t be true, or somehow we still must do something to earn it. Even Bonhoffer with his cheap grace statements, seem to thrust the burden of “earning” or being worthy back on our shoulders.

    Some once said to me that “Nothing is too wonderful too be true”

    My two favorite quotes from Robert Farrar Capon are:

    “Christianity is not a religion. Christianity is the proclamation of the end of religion, not of a new religion, or even of the best of all religions. …If the cross is the sign of anything, it’s the sign that God has gone out of the religion business and solved all of the world’s problems without requiring a single human being to do a single religious thing. What the cross is actually a sign of is the fact that religion can’t do a thing about the world’s problems – that it never did work and it never will…” – The Mystery of Christ … and Why We Don’t Get It, p. 62

    “Almost all people, inside as well as outside the church, find that the notion of grace stands in contradiction to everything they understand by religion.” – Between Noon and Three, p. 136

  3. Grace I don’t think you are called that name by accident!Perhaps your’e on the brink of an emotional and spiritual discovery that is way beyond the normal limits of Divine Love as interpreted by most Christianity.I think law is no more than a lid on brokenness.In Aramaic the word for evil actually comes from a root meaning of unripe or broken.Its all about timing and the time for restoration and wholeness.We who have been granted ‘faith’ have been started early on the path – non believers will follow in or outside time.Otherwise grace is not all conquering and Jesus died in vain.After being a conservative evangelical for most of my years my life was turned upside down when I learned that salvation or wholeness is 100% God and not the evangelical version of 99.999999% God and 0.000001% us.I would recommend some of Martin Zender’s books.They too are shocking but I believe catch the mystery of all consuming grace.

  4. “the wages of sin is death”

    Seriously, isn’t that bad enough? Why do we need this notion of a deranged, angry god to beat us up on our way to the grave, and then beat us up some more when we get to the other side?

    Sin is it’s own punishment. Salvation is exactly that – it’s not appeasement theology, even though you could build that argument from proof-texting scripture. Salvation is deliverance from what you get with sin – sanctification is the healing process – heaven is restoration and reunion.

  5. “One day you’ll see him and another you won’t. He doesn’t like being tied down – and of course he has other countries to attend to. It’s quite all right. He’ll often drop in. Only you mustn’t press him. He’s wild you know. Not like a tame lion.” -C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

    Lewis reminds us that Jesus is no tame lion. We do well not to try to domesticate God.

    “For we all must appear before the judgement seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.” -2 Corinthians 5:10, Paul writing to believers!

    Yes, God’s grace is indeed amazing. But it does not excuse humans for the choices we make in this life. There is much greater dimension to God’s ways than we can possibly imagine.

  6. Ken,
    I dont think even Mr Capon EVER imagined God were tame. Jesus crucifixion was hardly a domestic event.

    As to 2 Corinthians 5:10…keep reading 2Cor. 5:16   So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. 21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

    Choices have consequences, yes. If I commit a crime I should expect to serve the punishment. Grace however is about so much more then behavior.

  7. Okay, I’m going to cautiously leap in here. Cautiously, because I’ve not read the book, and not reading a book being talked about doesn’t give me a license to say too much.

    But, from what I’ve read here I’ve some thoughts.

    One big distinction that I think has troubled human relationships with God for… well, a long, long time, is the difference between earning God’s approval so that we’ll be saved and living in God’s presence because we are saved. Grace is certainly a matter of both.

    However, I think there’s a huge difference in how we talk about our participation. Guilt, I think, has been way, way, way overplayed. We shouldn’t feel guilty, for the most part. We shouldn’t knock ourselves down or wallow in our self-hate. God loves us. That’s amazing. That’s true. He made us, he keeps us, he wants us.

    We don’t want him, but he still wants us and works to help us find him, and peace with him that he offers. Wonderful.

    But our faith and our hope should mean something in our lives. If we truly believe and love God, if we truly believe that God loves us and is all in all, that should affect how we live, what we value, who we value, what we serve, how we respond, what we strive for, how we strive for it.

    Wesley said Because God worked, we can work. Because God works, we must work. Or something like that. It’s not about guilt though. That’s a tool of the devil to undermine people left and right through false religious sentiments. It’s about participating with God in a way that honors his presence with us. It’s a way of participating with God in the way that continues to shape and form us into the people we were always meant to be. It’s not a relationship between a judge and a convict, always teetering on being convicted. It’s a relationship between lovers, husband and wife, in which the commitment is secured but the dynamics within that commitment can be affected.

    Which is why even in the NT and OT, the men and women of God were never saved then sent on their way to do what they wanted. In a way there was more obligation, more pressing for right living, more expectation. Not out of guilt, but out of realization they were living ambassadors of the king of heaven. This isn’t about guilt even still. God loves us more than we love ourselves and our addictions to sins of all kinds undermines our identity, putting on a track where we lose sight of God because we increasingly look the wrong direction. God’s anger isn’t at us for the most part, but anger at the sin that leads us away from him, who is our only source of life.

    Like Adam and like Eve we can be in a fruitful relationship with God but then choose for ourselves that original sin, to try to live life with all the apparent benefits of God, only without the “burden” of God’s presence. Only that’s sin and that’s death.

    That’s why Peter was rebuked by Paul for going back to the old patterns. That’s why Jesus rebuked the disciples for getting things wrong at times, for interfering in his mission, for missing the point, for being weak and cowards. Not because he hated them, but precisely because he loved them and wanted them to taste the peace that came with his wisdom and understanding and hope.

  8. Grace, you’re going to be totally wrecked! Keep reading :). One other book of Capon’s that might shed more light is The Mystery of Christ) and why we don’t get it), as mentioned in the comments, above, and his book, Kingdom, Grace, Judgment: Paradox, Outrage, and Vindication in the Parables of Jesus. The latter is NOT an easy read, but oh so worth it, though I still contend Capon doesn’t go nearly far enough in his proclamation of grace and love.

  9. metler,

    I take no argument with anything you have stated. I think the “unchurched/unreached” get grace a whole lot better than most of the “churched”. However, I think the church has become far to comfortable with their view of grace. I see a very lackadaisical attitude concerning “what God requires of man” (Micah 6:8). To ride the paradox that “all requirements were met in Christ, therefore I am free from the law” is only a half-truth. We are not free from the spirit of the law. There is to be a proper response to grace, and that response is to be lived out in community. The OT illustrated it (1 Cor. 10:11), Jesus taught and modeled it (Matthew 7:22, Luke 6:46), and Paul set it as an imperative for the church (i.e Colossians 3:1-17). No one can live up to God’s requirements apart from grace, and He gives abundantly. But we are not yet freed from striving. It seems that much of the church has ceased to strive – and she has become emaciated because of it.

    It seems most of the commentary here is personal. Although living in grace is very personal, living out grace is community. If the church is to be the great vessel of God’s grace, then she needs to be infusing the community with His Kingdom. That’s not happening on any great scale in America or Europe. If we have grace, we have everything we need to fulfill God’s requirement.

    1. yes, this is esp true because as Paul says that through grace we find the true importance of the law.

      i love the last paragraph here. thanks, Ken, for that.

  10. Yes, all things here on earth, the actors and their acts so to speak, even the sets and subplots will come to fruition in heaven. All will find purpose in God’s grandeur. C.S. Lewis played with this idea a bit in the last of the Narnia stories. Almost neo-Platonist to the first time reader, all things merely shadow the reality that lies in the eternal Aslan, Lewis’ icon for Christ. The point was lost on many (which speaks volumes on the quality of modern education), but the point was that the Lord God will bring all things together for His purpose, and at the Last (which is the Beginning) we will see the accumulation of all we have known and done for all must appear before the Throne. Every knee will bend.

    At that “time” I think it will be made clear that all good is God’s, none of it ours for the claiming. Even the consequences of our sins, which must be met, will be found to be made into an everlasting wonder. For those that believe and love God, though we are forgiven, God’s world is one of cause and effect and we are called to face it one day (did David, though forgiven, not bear the brunt of his sins with Bathsheba?). Elbert Hubbard once noted, “we are not punished for our sins so much as by them.” Perhaps he was right.

    After all, we must be pruned. But the Father works the greatest miracles by pruning us, for that which is pruned burned, and that which is burned turned into fertilizer. God turns the worst evil to into good. Is that not the miracle that Christ proved? Is this not the true power of God? God is Life itself and its source, He has given it to us freely, and indeed independently. Adam had a choice to follow or stray. He strayed. When we stray from Life all that is left us is death. Entropy. Death isn’t evil, its just the natural consequence for turning away from the Source of Life, from God. Death is the wage of Sin we are told. Evil is not the opposite of good, it is the lack of it. It is the degenerate and decaying hole left in the absence of the life-giving goodness of God’s Breath.

    And running away leaves us breathless.

    But you see, though it is easy for mankind in our pride and arbitrary humanism to do evil – and we took all of Creation with us when we fell – it is within the power of God, and God alone, to turn evil into good, to reverse death. Christ’s resurrection gives new life to all of Creation. Death where is thy sting?

    God takes everything He has made and bends it to His will, yet still allows us the freedom of our own humanity. For those who are willing to accept God’s call, to accept His love, to live under His Kingship, we find pain in death, in bearing our cross, yes, but He has parted that water and promises us passage through the river Styx and life on the other side.

    Truly all things are made to His purpose – we can either bend willingly or be broken by His merciless Mercy. All will be dashed upon the Rock of Grace.
    —————-
    From the post: http://blog.timordei.org/2009/08/merciless-mercy.html

  11. I’m reading the book currently. At first, I had reservations – but that is exactly the point. Capon is brilliant, and I see why he used the situation he used for his parable. (I see this the more I read). It’s hard to hear when we are offended. But if we can move past our offense to hear him out, it’s worth it.

    An extramarital affair can cause much pain and suffering, especially for those betrayed (not just spouse, but children too). In some ways, I feel that Capon doesn’t adequately address that. Instead, he focuses on the death and consequences suffered by the adulterer. Yes, that’s tragic too – but no person is an island. Our choices drastically effect lives other than our own. That’s the one aspect that seems missing (but typical of western compartmentalization, or our individualism).

    That said, I am discovering numerous gems and flashes of insight in the book that are extremely beneficial. I’m about halfway through and really enjoying it thus far. Better off for reading it – that’s for sure!

  12. This is a fascinating conversation everyone. Sometimes I’m convinced that you only find this degree of insight on the web.

    James,
    The Hubbard statement is good. I agree that it is sin itself which punishes us and grace which saves us from that. From your post, I appreciate the imagery of the necessity of staying connected to our source of Life and Breath.

    metler,
    Thanks for the quotes. I think religion does tend to cause us to try to earn or prove something that is already ours.

    jonathan,
    I’m almost getting used to my perceptions continually being flipped around.

    charlie,
    The framework of brokenness and salvation as the restoration of wholeness very much describes my concept of sin and grace. The paradigm of behavior and punishment doesn’t describe what really happens in regard to sin.

    alex,
    Love this…

    Salvation is deliverance from what you get with sin – sanctification is the healing process – heaven is restoration and reunion.

    It has helped me to think of the word rescue when I encounter the word salvation in scripture. It speaks to me of an ongoing deliverance rather than a single encounter or transaction.

    patrick,
    You’re in good company. Most of us haven’t read or at least finished the book. :) But it’s an interesting topic nevertheless.

    I think you covered some important ideas about participating with God, grace to become who we are intended to be, and the reality that sin undermines our relationship with God. Thanks for sharing those thoughts.

    tracy,
    I wish I had time to sit down and read everything Lewis and everything Capon. I feel so behind in the books I should have been reading.

    ken,
    Our response to grace has always been an important issue, even in Paul’s time. Also I think the topic of “living out grace in community” would be an interesting one to address.

    sarah,
    Thanks for chiming in. I’m very interested in your perspective of this, particularly that you also found it challenging yet worth reading.

    I wonder if Capon limits the consequences to the adulterer simply because perhaps those are the only consequences of concern to the adulterer. I agree that sin is always more far-reaching than ourselves. However, because it is by nature self-centered, it disregards the consequences to others.

    I hope I get to finish the book. I’ve had some things come up that may put it on hold.

  13. The Bible says that the Law was a tutor. Could it be, that the consequences of sin and it’s inability to actually satisfy us is also a tutor like the law? Eventually we outgrow our desire to sin choosing what is more satisfying than sin; righteousness!! We choose it after own personal experiences with sin show us its shortcomings. And grace is God’s eternal love covering that enables the process ‘until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.’

    Don’t ask me about Hell. I will never figure that one out!

  14. I haven’t read the book under discussion either, but the question about what do we get away with caught my eye. For after all we “get away with” nothing. We live our lives and our choices, words, and actions work themselves out in ourselves, those around us and sometimes mysteriously through creation. We build and we destroy. We could hardly be eikons of God if our acts were inconsequential.

    But at the core it’s not really about being held accountable or even being forgiven. Yes, we find in God overflowing wells of forgiveness from which we can drink as we have need. But grace is not about God’s attitude toward us. It’s not “unmerited favor” or some similar abstraction. Grace is God standing with us and within us, working through us, providing us access to his energies, picking us up and brushing us off when we fall and turn to him, holding us up when we think we will be crushed.

    Grace is God. With us. Nothing less.

  15. david,
    You’re right. I believe the love of God can overshadow the desire and temptation for sin.

    bram,
    I agree, definitely intriguing!

    scott,
    Beautiful. I love the statement that grace is nothing less than God standing with us. Your first paragraph reminded me of a statement by Greg Boyd that I’ve been pondering…

    “We are all in the process of solidifying our identities by the decisions we make.”

  16. Grace,

    Sorry I was unclear. What I’m trying to say is that God’s grace is His willingness to wait out our learning process with sin. While He could judge it immediately, He doesn’t. He is patient and waits until we learn from the fruits of our indiscretion. That is His grace.

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