A Violent Grace
Updated: Jan 22
Sheldon Vanauken wrote a memoir called A Severe Mercy. I suppose it could be said to assert that God is rather Machiavellian in working His saving mercies – if we must suffer in order to come to those eternal joys that He has purposed for us, so be it. Worth it. Certainly in sending forth His Son, and in the Son's willing sacrifice, God has shown Himself to be willing to suffer ultimately that we be saved. CS Lewis put it this way: [God's love] is not wearied by our sins, or our indifference; and, therefore, it is quite relentless in its determination that we shall be cured of those sins, at whatever cost to us, at whatever cost to Him. (Mere Christianity, on Charity)
I have been thinking that there is a violence to Grace. Grace is not passive, it is not weak and flaccid, it is not indifferent or uncertain. It is active, it is strong, it is determined. Grace is like Love in this sense. Love is willing to endure anything and everything to have its desire, but love also stands against whatever threatens the beloved. Just think of a mother bear robbed of her cubs and you get the idea of what love can do.
When mankind initially sinned against God in the Garden, we were cast out and cherubim with a flaming sword guarded the way to the Tree of Life so that we would not stretch out our hands and eat and live forever in our brokenness, in our fallenness, and thus be forever miserable. Being cast out of the Garden was a violent grace. Death itself could be said to be a violent grace. With heaven now shut tight in its unyielding holiness to the feeble and sinful attempts of man to get in, what hope did we have except for the love of God? And this love of God takes some violent turns to save us.
At Jesus' baptism by John the Baptist at the Jordan River, (according to Mark's Gospel) the heavens were torn open. Torn open, and then the Spirit descended so that the Christ was empowered for His saving mission. But it's that language of the heavens being torn. Who or what tore them? I would put to you it was the love of God crashing through so that His saving Grace might descend to earth.
And then there was the crucifixion of Jesus. He told his disciples that he could summon legions of angels to defend Him, but that was not why He came. For the joy set before Him, He endured the cross. Consider the darkness and the earthquake that shook the earth at His death. Tombs were torn open then and some of the dead resuscitated. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. Torn from top to bottom. The curtain separated the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies. No one could enter that sacred space except the High Priest, and that only once a year and with blood. This veil was said to be a handspan thick. It would have fallen in an earthquake, but it would not have torn. What tore it?
I put again to you, it was the violent grace of God, giving manifest evidence that the separation between God and man had been dealt with decisively. Mankind again had access to God. The writer of Hebrews said, “Therefore brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh....” It's as if the mediating grace of God was ever and always in Christ, and the earthly tabernacle and temple was but a shadowy copy of the real way of access to the Father through the Son. And the violence done to bulls and goats to cleanse from sin was again but a shadowy representation of the violence of our sins that would be meted out on the body of our Lord Jesus so that the separation (between man and God) might be done away.
But that violent grace dealt with our sin.
The last enemy to be dealt with is death. As the firstfruits of Christ's victory over death, the same Spirit that descended at His baptism broke the iron bars of Sheol and raised a glorified Christ, and with that Resurrection raised a new and glorified humanity to enter into the very presence of God. But a Day is coming, in which the violent grace of God will again be manifest. On that Day, the graves will be torn open and the dead shall be raised, and Death shall be destroyed and be no more.
All glory be to Christ Jesus, our Lord.