Monday, December 12, 2005

The Moral Miracle

Grace is a moral miracle. The cosmos has a natural order or configuration -- the Hebrew writers called it hokma -- which encompasses both the physical and spiritual aspects of reality. There are laws of physics and chemistry that govern the material world, and there are moral laws that order our relationships with other beings. When either kind of law is transgressed, there are consequences. Jump out of a plane without a parachute, and gravity will execute swift judgment. Act cruelly to a child, and consequences, while not always immediate, are sure to follow. God is not mocked, and neither is physics.

However, there are occasions when a spiritual being, whose free actions are not constrained or determined by physical laws, will contravene said laws. God can inject his own causal power into an otherwise closed and determined system and produce an outcome that would have been impossible, given those conditions. (In my view, human beings can do this as well, but only with regard to their own bodies.) We call this a miracle. (For the philosophical sticklers, I am merely outlining sufficient conditions for a miracle.)

Justice is a feature of the universe that is as ineluctable as any law of physics. We are constantly assured in the Scriptures that, ultimately, there will be justice. “For God will bring every act to judgment.” (Eccl. 12:14) No one will get away with anything. This is the natural order of things . . . until God intervenes. When God extends grace, it contravenes the moral framework of the cosmos, but He has that prerogative. However, there is a critical difference between moral miracles and physical ones. Physical miracles upset the natural order of things – like tilting a pinball machine from the outside. God needs no justification for such acts. Moral interventions, however, cannot be had on the cheap. One cannot acquit the guilty capriciously and still be called “just.” There is a certain conservation of moral energy in the universe, and this law is not breakable. Edmund could not be freed simply for the wanting, not by Aslan’s mighty roar, not even by the great Emperor-Over-the-Sea.

God can satisfy the requirement for justice, the necessary retribution that I deserve for my evil acts, by another means. He does not simply sweep it under the rug, pat me on the head and say, “That’s OK, I’ll let it go this time.” To do so would be to abdicate his divine throne, to no longer be worthy of worship, for only one who is perfectly just may rule the cosmos. My debt was paid, but by another. What is truly miraculous about this is not the payment, but rather the love that took my guilt upon itself. God was not required to do so – I did not deserve it. God would be just to allow every person to reap what they have sown (and none of us can fathom the true extent of our sowing). So, in a sense, the miracle has a locus in space and time, which is the cross. Everything changed that hour. The juggernaut that is the moral Tao would have rolled along quite oblivious to our fear of judgment, crushing us all to dust. But something happened that the universe did not expect. God intervened. He deflected the path of the Newtonian consequences of sin. It did not crush me, but neither did it stop or lose its hideous momentum. Jesus stood in its path and did not flinch.

Those who trust God are those who know they have dodged a well-deserved bullet. They have jumped out of the moral airplane without a parachute, and somehow found themselves safely on the ground. It is in every sense of the word, a miracle.


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