Ordination Questions, Part 2: Humanity and Divine Grace

Please see the introduction to Part 1 for the context of these questions…

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c) What is your understanding of humanity, and the human need for divine grace?

            Humanity, in Christian spirituality, holds in tension the paradox of the Imago Dei and Original Sin: we are simultaneously broken and self-destructive and created in the image of God.  However, it is the fallen nature of humanity that necessitates the need for divine grace.

            In the telling of three parables in Luke 15, Jesus provides a vivid summary of the human condition and its need for divine grace.  In response to muttering religious leaders complaining about Jesus’ wide boundaries of acceptance, He tells three stories of lostness: a lost sheep, a lost coin, and a lost boy.  These three things are all lost in different ways: The sheep is lost because it’s dumb.  The coin is lost because of carelessness.  The son is lost because of willfulness.  These three pictures taken together are a vibrant image of the human condition (our nature, our environments, and our choices). 

            Take, for example, a person who has an anger problem, flies off the handle, and is verbally or physically abusive.  One could argue that his problem is nature: his Irish genes, a matter of brain chemistry, or hormonal imbalance.

            Or, it could be part of his inborn nature – similar to the sheep in the Parable of the Lost Sheep (Luke 15:3-7).

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            Or, one could argue that his anger issue is the result of a bad environment (nurture): poor parenting or family life or being bullied as kid.  Perhaps he was, like the Parable of the Coin, mismanaged by his “supervisors” (Luke 15:8-10).

            Or, one could claim that his anger stems from his own selfishness and pride and the choices he made (choice), similar to the Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32).

            The answer is usually, in varying degrees: “all of the above.”

            Another example is someone with a drinking problem.  One could argue that her problem is genetic (nature) – she has a biological bent toward drinking in the same way the sheep’s nature lends itself to lostness. 

            Or, one could contend that her alcoholism is the result of a bad environment (nurture): a way of numbing the pain from past abuse and those who mismanaged her, like the Parable of the Coin.

            Or, one could say that her alcohol abuse stems from selfishness, stubbornness, and pride (choice), like the prodigal son.

            Again, the answer is probably: “all of the above.”  

Humanity’s condition is deeply complex. It is in our nature, it is magnified by the way others treat us, and it is deepened by our own choices.

            Many people think of religion as “humanity’s search for God.” In other words, we think that we are like dogs or cats: we can find our way home quite easily if we are just pointed in the right direction. But Jesus describes us like dumb sheep and inanimate coins: helplessly lost and in desperate need of grace.  The vision of the loving Father shows us the wide, unbounded grace of our Heavenly Father when we make the choice to begin the journey home.

Dana Hicks