Grace. The concept of unmerited favor. Those who claim to be born-again Christians should understand this definition. But, I wonder if too many of us limit the idea to the work of Christ death, burial, and resurrection.

I believe grace abounds beyond the facts of Christ’s propitiation of mankind’s punishment for sin. In fact, I’m thinking that Grace is the currency of the great economy of God. Theologians have used the language of economics to help explain God’s way. These focus on salvation, a redemption in a kind of transaction. I think this is just one – though, eternally important – aspect of God’s economy.

My main point is that the Creator’s grace is also evidenced in His creation. The design, systems, and processes witness to God’s grace. I recently used social media to ask people where they see grace. One person, Wendy Rafalski, gave an excellent observation about grace in God’s creation which reinforces some of my thoughts. She wrote, “I think the resiliency of the natural world is a kind of grace. Disturbance happens, things grow. Harvest happens, things grow. Even poisoning happens, things grow. Life was created to go on (and I emphasize created). To be fruitful and multiply.”

God’s design for growing things, even in a cursed state, is grace as I observe it. I think Wes Jackson of The Land Institute wasn’t far off when he and Wendell Berry were discussing what kind of economy would be right for the world, or at least “more benign”[1] In his essay, Berry reports that he suggested an energy economy would be better than the current money economy. I believe he felt energy was a currency that is measurable and comprehensive at more than just the commerce level. Jackson’s counter to Berry was insightful. I understand Jackson to believe the only economy that is comprehensive enough to function at every possible level no matter how mundane or important, no matter how simple or complex, while still being benign to creation is, as he put it, the “Kingdom of God.” Berry confesses to have found Jackson’s claim important to him as he “found it indispensable,” I presume because there’s nothing that is not included in the Kingdom of God.

In more than one of his books, including The Paradise of God: Renewing Religion in an Ecological Age, Normal Wirzba reflects deeply on what the ideal economy should look like and refers to it as the “Sabbath economy” in which all things not only exist but flourish in the context of God’s delight of His creative work.

This then causes me to ask the question: What is the mode of exchange in this all-encompassing Kingdom of God or the Sabbath existence? I can only conclude, in my lay capacity, that grace is the currency.

Grace abounds. Grace is God in eternity past designing a creation in which creatures are interdependent in a complex web of interactions creating patterns of conviviality. Grace is the fallen leaf being consumed by other life and helping to form fertile soil. Grace is mineral-rich rainfall supplying moisture and nutrients for plants only after having been filtered through the ground and distilled to vapor as part of the hydrologic cycle. Grace is the uptake of nutrients by plant roots only made possible after the nutrients have been consumed, digested, and excreted by microbial life in the soil that was attracted there by chemicals exuded by the very roots that needed the mineral nutrients. Grace is the ability of plants to convert abundant energy of sunlight into compounds they need. Grace is the ability of other creatures to consume these plants and have many beneficial nutrients transfer to the eater through mastication, digestion, and circulation. A nearly infinite set of examples of God’s grace is found in His creation.

If we practice what God intended by רָדָה or maybe more easily understood through what Ellen F. Davis describes as “skilled mastery among” creation[2], we will be able to benefit from this flow of currency so readily at our hands. The abundance of God’s provision for humans, even today, is humbling if we only consider it thoughtfully and without ego and with thanksgiving.

What is the point of all this grace in creation? I can think of three reasons germane to this discussion; there are more. One, it reflects the glory of God and points mankind back to Himself – it’s revelatory. Two, it helps us realize our dependence on God. Finally, this grace in creation that is discovered by our need to eat points us to redemption. It is a type that should illustrate to Jesus Christ. Take what Wendell Berry wrote in his essay “The Gift of Good Land.”

To live, we must daily break the body and shed the blood of Creation. When we do this knowingly, lovingly, skillfully, reverently, it is a sacrament. When we do it ignorantly, greedily, clumsily, destructively, it is a desecration. In such desecration we condemn ourselves to spiritual and moral loneliness, and others to want.

A fifteenth century theologian penned a very eloquent description of mankind’s potential for an all-fulfilling relationship with God. Nicholas of Cusa wrote:

When all my endeavor is turned toward Thee because all Thy endeavor is turned toward me; when I look unto Thee alone with all my attention, nor ever turn aside the eyes of my mind, because Thou dost enfold me with Thy constant regard; when I direct my love toward Thee alone because Thou, who art Love’s self, has turned Thee toward me alone. And what, Lord, is my life, save that embrace wherein Thy delightsome sweetness doth so lovingly enfold me?

I believe we Occidentals, those living in the West, have been taught a lie that we must strive and work and strain to be successful, earn a living that allows us to be consumers, and to do that all independently. Instead, if we would take our cue from Nicholas of Cusa and see God’s model for mankind, we will observe a kind of Sabbath rest of living because of a gracious Creator who set us in a place spoken into existence to meet the needs of mankind who can live in a loving relationship with Him.

What greater wealth is there than what God has intended for us? Grace is a currency that can be exchanged for our benefit and available for all meaningful transactions.

[1] Wendell Berry, “Two Economies”

[2] Ellen F. Davis, “Meaning of Dominion”, https://www.bibleodyssey.org:443/passages/related-articles/meaning-of-dominion

Dan Grubbs

Dan Grubbs, editor of Stewardculture, lives in northwest Missouri where he is implementing and managing a permaculture-style design on his 15-acre homestead. A weekly teacher of the Bible, Dan believes that an agrarian lifestyle is one in which he can answer God's calling to steward creation through regenerative techniques that attempt to mimic God's design.

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