How do we enjoy common grace goodness in a world that so readily wounds us?
Amid several deaths in my family and lingering health issues in my home, I’ve often asked this question. I’ve been tempted to detach from life’s good things for fear of losing them. Maybe you’ve been there too.
In the aftermath of tragedy and suffering, we can trivialize the pleasant aspects of life under the sun. Christians know better than to say “Nothing matters.” But we’re often guilty of believing nothing you can taste, touch, hear, smell, see, or talk to on this side of the New Jerusalem matters—that the enjoyment of fleeting, common-grace gifts serves no greater or lasting purpose.
I’m now convinced such trivialization is both unnecessary and ultimately damaging. The arbitrary avoidance of common grace seriously limits our ability to glorify God on his terms.
Saturated in Grace
Try as we might, we can’t escape that we live in a world drenched in goodness. This is by God’s design. Marriage, parents, healthy bodies, caramel lattes, babbling creeks, your baby’s first steps, the thrill of sport, the smell of a summer barbecue, well-crafted tapestries, and so forth: in either their basic existence or in the ingenuity necessary to create them, all these things are given by God. They’re genuinely good gifts, and all good gifts are meant to be enjoyed rightly. Such enjoyment is worship.
All good gifts are meant to be enjoyed rightly. Such enjoyment is worship.
Andrew Wilson has helped drive this point home for me. In Spirit and Sacrament, he writes, “The grace of God stands at the heart of all Christian experience.” He goes on to say, “God is fundamentally a gift giver, and . . . our joy in him flows most naturally when we make as much use of as many of his gifts as we can.”
We glorify a gracious God by enjoying his gracious gifts.
Surrounded by Loss
But if God is glorified by our right enjoyment of good gifts, then how do we respond to both the potential for and presence of real loss?
How do we enjoy a world where tragedy seems as commonplace as common grace? How does the Christian enjoy weddings, sport, espresso, waterfalls, a child’s development, and grilled burgers in a world where divorce, ACL tears, food poisoning, copperhead snakes, autism, and heart disease are all too common? How can we enjoy well-crafted tapestries in a world that so often pulls the rug out from under us?
We must recognize both the loss and enjoyment of common-grace gifts are means to the same end.
God is comprehensively good toward his children, and he’s comprehensively sovereign. He brings both good gifts and great loss into our lives for eternally good purposes. Neither suffering loss nor enjoying pleasant things is meant as an end unto itself.
Idolatry and Hopelessness
Consider the similarity between the idolization of good gifts and succumbing to hopelessness amid suffering. Both assume there’s no higher joy than the momentary good thing gained through enjoyment or lost through suffering.
This is why we’re not to drink the good gift of wine to excess (Eph. 5:18), imposing on a drink more meaning and joy than it can bear. Instead, we’re to enjoy limited gifts in light of their limited capacity and in light of the God who gives them. We’re to enjoy gifts with our eyes turned upward, following the beams to the sun. If we follow them back to the bottle, we’ve made a god of a gift. Drunkenness ensues.
Ecclesiastes says it’s better to be in a house of mourning than in a house of feasting (Eccl. 7:2). This isn’t an indictment of weddings. It acknowledges there’s a unique danger in feasting. There’s a danger in weddings that doesn’t exist in funerals: to forget the party ends and the grave looms inevitably before us.
All common-grace gifts are light and momentary.
Let It Go?
But there’s hope beyond measure. For not only are all common-grace gifts light and momentary, but so is all our suffering (2 Cor. 4:17–18).
On the other side of right enjoyment of temporary gifts is a better prize: the eternal God of all grace. This reality allows us to hold gifts with open hands. It allows us to enjoy gifts while joyfully laying them down without bitterness.
On the other side of right enjoyment of temporary gifts is a better prize: the eternal God of all grace.
We need not give up the enjoyment of earthly gifts. However, we must trade such enjoyment when greater enjoyment in Christ is on the line. To live is Christ. To die is gain (Phil. 1:21). Christians shouldn’t reject good gifts out of some arbitrary austerity. Instead, we trade good gifts for an infinitely greater gift: Christ himself. We’re those who have “joyfully accepted the plundering of [our] property,” knowing we have “a better possession and an abiding one” (Heb. 10:34).
May this reminder keep us from the idolization of common grace, the temptation to trivialize gifts, and the debilitating fear of losing them. We need not dismiss common grace enjoyment out of hand, but we must hold it with an open hand.
One thought on “The Avoidance of Common Grace”
It is challenging to balance the enjoyment of what God has given us here on this earth to enjoy with the reality that it is temporal. It should point us to our eternal God with thanksgiving for His provision and the gift of eternal life. Thanks for this insightful post.
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