Editor’s note: This article is part 3 of a series, “The Kingdom of Grace.” Part 2 can be found here.
Many people speak of the graces of God, but first, let us ponder the God of grace. Scripture and tradition tell us that grace is first of all a gift of God’s love. But how shall we understand his love?
In one sense, God loves absolutely everyone and everything. For God is love (1 Jn. 4:8). And he shows his universal or common love simply by creating all people and all the things of nature. From out of his love God gives being to the sun, the moon, the stars, the earth, the flora and fauna all around us. God gives to all things their very natures, their activities, their purposes, and their place in the world. God also moves them and directs them along their paths.
Most importantly, God created the soul of each human being – each in a special way. Each human soul is a source of life for the person’s body, and also the abode of the person’s inner life. The soul and body together constitute our human nature, and, in a sense, we too belong to the world of nature (even though we are destined for so much more). For those with eyes to see, the whole world of nature is a breathtaking display of the wisdom of God. It is all an amazing gift of love flowing from the God who simply loves all. Traditionally, therefore, we speak of the blessings of nature.
The blessings of nature are immense and without them, no one could live or breathe or move towards God in any way at all. Sunbeams and pure water are good things indeed and reflect the goodness of God a bit. So, too, the human love of spouses, parents, family, and friends. And it pleases God for us to seek him through the blessings of nature provided we do so in a morally good way. But God’s gift of grace is something different in kind from all of the blessings of nature – something even more amazing and more wonderful.
For grace is a special gift of God’s love in the sense that it is a gift distinct from the outpouring of all the blessings of nature. All of nature combined, the sun, moon, and stars, the flora and fauna of the earth, our souls and bodies, our whole life in this world, even the whole order of angels, is really next to nothing by comparison to God himself. For God himself is unspeakably better and infinitely greater than all of it. At this point, it is worth pausing to ponder just how all-surpassing is the goodness of God himself.
For only if we hold in mind the all-surpassing goodness of God are we really in a position to catch a glimpse of the grandeur of grace. God did not create us human beings only in order to give us the blessings of nature. God did not create human beings simply in order to give us the world.
God created us to give us himself.
It was not enough for God to give us a reflection of himself through the finite things of nature. God wanted to give us himself immediately and in person. He wanted us to know, to love, and to enjoy the all-surpassing goodness that he himself is. Grace, in the first and most important sense, is God’s gift of himself to us. Grace is first of all the mystery of God saying: “here, have Me.”
Grace is first of all the mystery of God saying: “here, have Me.”
Fr. James Brent, O.P.
In this sense, grace is a gift of excessive love. It is a love over and above all of the blessings of nature. No one deserves God’s gift of himself to us, and no one can comprehend it. But God gives his grace nonetheless – he gives himself to us in Jesus Christ and in the outpouring of the Spirit into our souls. God does so for no other reason than that he is good. He is simply generous. He is over-the-top generous. From all eternity he has held in his heart the plan to bless us in such an excessive way – over the top.
How does God give himself to us? In what ways? In a sense, the whole purpose of Scripture and tradition is to answer those questions. The story of Scripture is the story of God’s secret love designs upon humanity and the special blessing he has held in store for us from all eternity. It was a secret plan, hidden from before the foundation of the world, yet now it has been revealed to us through the prophets and the apostles. It was the plan to give us himself, to open up his inner Life to us, and draw us into it.
When God gives himself to us in love, the gift of himself is sometimes called uncreated grace. In the process of giving himself to us, God also gives us many graces. He creates in our souls many special qualities, distinct from all the blessings of nature, and he also moves in our hearts, stirs us, and inclines us to act in ways that will really save our souls, e.g. to repent of our sins or to say a prayer. All of these qualities and stirrings are sometimes called created graces, and they are the topic of our next article.
Father James Dominic Brent, O.P. is a Dominican Friar who lives and teaches at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, DC. Several of his homilies, spiritual conferences, interviews, and radio spots can be found on his personal Soundcloud site. He frequently lectures for the Thomistic Institute and appears on Aquinas 101.
Image courtesy of Unsplash.