We all watched with horror and sadness as Hurricane Harvey devastated the Texas coast. Thousands of people were displaced by the power of this storm, and the damage is widespread. Let our prayers continue for the people as the plans to rebuild begin.
As has occurred in previous times of devastation, there are thousands of examples of people sacrificing their own safety to help others in need. One night last week I watched as a reporter interviewed many of those with trucks which went into neighborhoods to rescue those stranded. Some of these people had themselves lost everything; nevertheless, they still felt the need to selflessly devote themselves to helping their neighbors and at times, total strangers.
In light of the teaching of Scripture, that all men and women are sinfully depraved and that “no one does good, not even one”, how do we account for the presence of such goodness? Is the Jewish idea that there is within each person a good nature and a bad nature true? How does that square with the Scriptural idea of human sinfulness?
Theologians offer ‘common grace’ as a way of explanation for a gift God gives to all of humanity. It is not because of some inherent goodness humans possess that they are able, at times, to show such acts of selflessness and concern for others, but the fact that God bestows a level of grace on all of his creation. Jesus alluded to this when he stated, “He (God) makes his sun rise on the evil and the good and sends rain on the just and the unjust” (Matthew 5:45). That means that both wicked farmers who curse God and righteous farmers who worship him partake of the blessings of sun and rain.
This common grace is far reaching in our world today; though we are so accustomed to it, we often fail to recognize it. Things like government, our financial system, agriculture, and the armed services are just some of the evidence of common grace we often take for granted. Paul gives a long teaching in the thirteenth chapter of Romans how God establishes government for the punishment of evildoers and to promote peace. They go a long way in holding evil in check. In countries where common grace is removed, you can see that chaos and violence prevail.
And that is a major aspect of common grace of which we all benefit. Even though we live in a sinful world, God holds back the forces of evil, so there continues to be a relative peace in our day. Even fallen human nature is restrained from breaking out into full rebellion. One can see what society can become when that restraining hand of God is removed, as evidenced in the Third Reich in the 1930’s and 40’s. Just a slight removing of his hand, which, in normal times restrains evil and all semblances of such things as peace, order, and the rule of law, are removed.
Even though all human beings are sinful and tainted by evil, common grace often allows for them to do good when it is needed. We have seen abundant displays of common grace in the last week in Texas as people put aside their own desires and give them to helping others. We err if we think that its origin is within man, for it is not. A good God who loves a sinful world provides grace to all; even those who do not claim to know Him. We live out this belief whenever we give thanks for our food. Though the food comes to us from a long line of agents such as farmers, distributors, and stores, we thank God for we know that behind all these agents, is a loving God who provides for us.
This is most likely the meaning of Paul’s statement in I Timothy 4:10 that God is the: “Savior of all men, especially those who believe.” This verse is what theologians refer to when distinguishing between common grace and so-called saving or special grace. Common grace means God saves humanity from certain death by ensuring that the sun comes up every day and that the ground has sufficient rain. That grace cannot save us from our sins but is given to preserve both human and animal life. In this light, we are saved from many dangers.
Only believers have special grace, which saves them from their sin. This saving grace is the powerful display of God’s perfect work, which he accomplished through his perfect Son. For those, Christ died, and the effects of that death are the means of saving those who believe.
When our eyes are opened to see evidence of common grace in our world as well as in our own lives, we begin to see it everywhere. God’s gracious provision of food, clothing, and shelter are never again taken for granted. We see many examples of it in Texas and Louisiana in these days as people put aside their own needs in order to help others. Let us praise God for God’s grace which is shed abroad so abundantly in our world, asking him to sensitize us to recognize it in all of its abundances.