Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Grace: Tangible or Intangilbe?

Grace has both tangible and intangible expressions.

Ordinarily, grace is works intangibly to sanctify us and conform us to God’s likeness; however this can be accomplished (or revealed) through tangible, concrete acts. We call these two actions of grace gratia gratum faciens and gratia gratis data, respectively.

Actual grace - gratia gratis data - is that grace which is freely given in and through concrete acts that allows one to be built up in grace; that is to say, friendship with God. Actual grace is the tangible expression of the loving help of God.

In the Old Testament, the Hebrew term hesed (defined in class as “a basic posture that incarnates itself in deeds of kindness and friendship.”) is a close approximation of our understanding of actual grace. Hesed, according the same author that gave the above definition, “points to unpredictable, surprising acts of kindness.” A prime example such unpredictable, unexpected acts of kindness is Jonathan bringing himself “into a sacred covenant with” David. (1 Sam 20:8) Jonathon, through no hint of David and totally beyond expectations for the King’s son, “stripped himself of the robe that was upon him, and gave it to David, and his armour, and even his sword and his bow and his girdle.”(1 Sam 18:4) Jonathon’s kindness to David brings both of them into a closer relationship with God. (Cf Sam 20)

The Hebrew term hanan is said to mean benevolence, mercy, responding to need and forgiveness. An example of this benevolence is the granting of children by God to Jacob. (Cf Gen 33:5) In other places (Cf Jer 20:11, Is 63:1, Zeph 3:17) God – the giver of grace – is portrayed as a “mighty warrior,” one who is in our midst responding to our needs, one who saves. Sanctifying grace - gratia gratum faciens­, literally ‘grace pleasing to make’ – is given to us by God

The word charis, found in the New Testament and in the Septuagint, is a word taken to mean grace. This word covers both sanctifying grace and actual grace. Saint Paul writes that God “has mercy upon whomever he wills, and he hardens the heart of whomever he wills.” (Rom 9:18)  This fits well with our understanding of grace as mercy and as a free gift. This mercy is an inner, less tangible expression of grace; it is expressed by the Epistle writers as a healing of the wounds caused by sin (gratia sanans) and an elevating of the human (gratia elevens.) Although grace elevates the human, it does not replace human nature; rather, grace always perfects nature (gracia perfecit naturan non supplet.)

Grace, the free gift of God’s self to us in order that we might be like Him, is expressed both tangibly and intangibly.


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