Ok, grace, biblically speaking, is not a blue-eyed blonde. Waka, waka. But neither is grace simply “unmerited favor,” the Sunday school definition I grew up with. It may very well be that, but it’s bigger than that.
Paul calls grace a dominion in Romans 5. It’s a realm. It’s a form of power that produces a certain kind of life. It’s an ecosystem that produces a certain kind of life. And it’s totally a gift of God. We did nothing to create the conditions through which God reigns through grace. It is God’s work, created, maintained, and sustained through God’s power. Which is to say, it’s the effective domain of the Holy Spirit, and not of the flesh or of the principalities and powers responsible for the current mess we’re in.
Paul imagines two kinds of human life. One, under the power of sin and death, produces futility, a creation gone awry and groaning for liberation, human divisions, dogs and cats sleeping together (just seeing if you’re paying attention and it you know your Bill Murray movies, and if you don’t, you’re likely still under the power of sin and death). You get the idea. The other possibility for human life is new creation, life in the ecology of the Spirit, which produces people who look more and more like Jesus. Here, creation’s goraning is joined by our own, human divisions are overcome, and we become the righteousness of God.
So, this is what I mean by life in the Spirit being an ecosystem. Some theologians, notably Pannenberg and Welker, refer to the presence of the Spirit in the world as a forcefield. I think what they’re driving at is a way to discuss the Spirit’s work in the world as being larger than personal influence or encouragement. I’ve written here before that I’ve collected a number of interviews with people that include questions about the Holy Spirit, and I have yet to find one response that suggests the Spirit is at work in something other than an individual’s interior life.
While the Spirit does empower and encourage us as individuals, the Spirit is at work in the world independent of what is happening in me. The Spirit is at work to create the conditions necessary for people to encounter and welcome the peace of God in all of its forms. In this sense, the Spirit is like a forcefield, and effective realm of influence.
So, may the force be with you? Well, not like Luke and Han Solo. In fact, I don’t like the term forcefield for two related reasons. The Spirit isn’t simply power, but a person, and forcefield is too impersonal. Second, the Spirit’s work is discernible to us precisely because of this personal dimension. I mean by this, that the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of God, the God who took notice of slaves in Egypt and liberated them. I mean by this, that the Spirit is the Spirit of Jesus Christ, who trusted God with his life, even to the point of death on a cross.
The Spirit is not simply a force or power in the world that we can learn to master, like voo-doo, or securing the desire’s of your heart, or personal financial mastery, or church growth. That’s the way the power of the flesh works, through human mastery of certain powers. Rather, the Spirit is a person, one beyond our control. And the very condition for life in the effective realm of the Spirit is that we give up all pretense to personal mastery so that we might instead be mastered.
Let’s put it this way. The fruit of the flesh, the attempt at human mastery, is chock full of dissension, envy, rivalry, division. That’a frenetic life, a “looking-over-your-shoulder” life, a hurried, frazzled life. But the fruit of the Spirit, as I said before, is slow. It’s patient and kind and non-rivalrous. And because of these fruit, life in the Spirit can be an attentive life. And when we live this way with others (the fruit of the Spirit requires a life with others, you can’t have any of it by yourself), then we find ourselves in the effective environment of grace.
Come, Holy Spirit.