In the first hour of amazing grace, when the sweet sound appears and we know God is true, a seed is planted within. And if in that first hour we are unable to give rise to any coherent expression of this knowledge, when our joy overrides such attempts, the seed within takes hold, rooting and growing through every experience thereafter. God’s sanctifying grace, the affirmation of His love expressed in our first hour, plants within us the first moral principle of all grace and all love—the knowledge and admission we do not know, a desire to yield our self-reliance to His will. And if at first we do not yield entirely, God’s grace comes again and again, His means to take us where He wants us to go.
But we are good pretenders. We like to think we do know, and this gets us into a bind since this exertion is an act of self-will. Self-will leads to every sort of moral construction and justification we can conjure. Morality as mere ethics is but a practical matter between men, a set of rules, a norm. In the context of eternity and grace, morality, as guided by God’s word, poses a constant problem. Ethics, as devised by men, may in the end conform to men, to every age and fashion man inhabits. A man only has to look around to see what another man does. Becoming Christian, yielding to God’s sanctifying grace offers us no such convenience. We are called to be obedient to God. This, I think, is clear. And here, I can admit I am as Fred Craddock said, “one without authority.”
I offer as an example the idea people enter relationships using the lens of their own perspective affirmed by their experience. We like to bring our own version of events to the table, as if we know. Herein lies the root of all differences between good men and women. No one can ever fully understand the experiences our brethren have endured—ever.
A more salient example is the man diagnosed with a terminal disease. In his circumstance, God’s first moral principle brings to his reality a faith he has not known before. He realizes for the first time he does not know, while the living, in their imagination, think they do.
A third man is presented with two moralities. His choice is not between right and wrong, but between two rights. And to which right should he be obedient? The answer is murky at best. Moral dilemmas are life’s suffering. Grace has brought me this far—I know I do not know. And if I chance the wrong choice, if I chance convincing myself I am right, grace still works in me and grows through my failings. Wisdom is not a prescient knowledge. It begins in not knowing, nurtured through failing.
And what does this not knowing tell us but that our self-will, even in the smallest effort to abstain from wrong, is not enough to bring us home. Grace does that.