Obligation or Grace ?
I was raised in a Roman Catholic family, brought up on a system of morals and law. Jesus, it was said, died for the sins of the world and if I were to believe that truth and be a ‘good’ person by being faithful to the Church and to God’s law, I should see heaven or at least make it to Purgatory. Yet, somewhere in my mid-teens I saw a problem with a benevolent and loving God who seemed powerless to help those around me who needed Him the most. During that adolescent time my sister was diagnosed with an incurable neuromuscular disease called Friedreich’s Ataxia – a degenerative disorder that eventually leads to premature death. So as I wrestled with the implications of her permanent disability and my theology, I began to ask what seemed to me to be the obvious, “If God is all-powerful and all-loving, then why this?”
Answers came from various areas and channels of philosophical persuasion, but no one gave me a Scriptural answer. I received the padded answers that are more connected with making God out to be not-so-bad rather than the revealed answers of the Bible. I’m sure you have heard them before – “God has a plan.”, “There are some mysteries we just don’t understand.”, “She can be healed if she just has enough faith.” and “This is the devil’s work not God’s.” All of these responses are commonly given to struggling sojourners and unbelieving denizens in a hopeful attempt to appease their grief and heartache, yet they are misguided replies.
The truth is that this world is under the curse of sin and death and with that comes diseases, disasters and heinous crime.(Gen. 2:17; Rom. 1:17ff) The better question to ask is whether or not God is obligated to do something about it. Is He obligated to cure all diseases? Is He obligated to prevent every murder and rape and theft? Is God obligated to stop every war? Certainly, He is all-powerful so why doesn’t He? If we answer that He is obligated, then God has failed and if we answer that He doesn’t intervene because of our lack of faith or works, then we are more powerful than God for we can thwart His will.
However, the biblical answer is that God is not obligated to show mercy towards sinners; that is why we call it mercy. (Exodus 33:19;Rom. 9:15) Obligated mercy is duty, not grace and since everyone is guilty before God for every person falls short of the required obedience to the Law (Rom. 3:23; James 2;10), He owes us nothing. (Dan. 4:35) In His benevolent grace and chosen mercy, He does aid humanity for He restrains judgment upon mankind in His supreme patience so that all who will hear can hear the Word of Reconciliation in the preaching of the gospel. As a result, this world is not as wicked as it could be through divine intervention. It is the purpose and joy of the church to bring the good news of His mercy found in Christ to a condemned race for “He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” (John 3:18)