It is easy to point fingers at the loudest voices in the divisive conversations fragmenting our world. I can clearly see how their understanding of God’s love story does not translate into their daily human stories, but one night at Starbucks, I was guilty of relational violence too. I was offended by the derogatory remarks and didn’t agree with either opinion wholeheartedly. I was afraid of being splintered with shrapnel if I got involved.
Sociologists underscore that my response is not unusual. Fear is so pervasive that experts have made the case we live in a generalized “culture of fear”: “This fear factor breeds more violence, mental illness and trauma, [and] social disintegration.”[i]
Learning to Recognize Common Grace
When we forget our stories of rescue and love, we step into the aftermath of self-absorption, as author and philosopher Baltasar Gracián poignantly describes: “He that has satisfied his thirst turns his back on the well . . . When dependence disappears, good behavior goes with it as well as respect . . . Let not silence be carried to excess lest you go wrong, nor let another’s failings grow incurable for the sake of your own advantage.”[ii] Being offended or afraid in the midst of tricky conversations denies common grace and turns our back on the well of Grace that has slaked our thirst for love and belonging.
As we live within the story of God and alongside the stories of others, we will learn to see common grace—ribbons of God’s good and perfect gifts in every interaction and every relationship.
Common grace, according to author and theologian Tim Keller, is “a desire on God’s part to bestow certain blessings on all human beings, believer and non-believer alike.”[iii] Without common grace, every conversation can become a curse that reveals badness, foolishness, injustice, and ugliness. But when we begin to understand our stories and listen to our lives, we start to recognize every conversation as a gift that can reveal goodness, wisdom, justice, and beauty.
Common grace requires humility.
Humility is a way of being in the world—knowing that an ability to write or bake or manage money is a gift; a sense of timing or intuition is a gift; the skill to paint, make music, or act is a gift. When our child makes the varsity-baseball team, that is a gift. When we make a wise parenting decision, that is a gift. When we save an extra five thousand dollars, that is a gift. When we celebrate twenty-five years of marriage, that is a gift. When we are the beneficiary or someone’s kindness, that is a gift. When we encourage someone, that is a gift. When someone challenges us, that is a gift. All is grace.
Perhaps this is the world the apostle Paul imagined when he wrote, “In Christ’s family there can be no division into Jew and non-Jew, slave and free, male and female” (Galatians 3:28). Imagine a world where every human interaction is viewed as a gift—where there is no distinction based on ethnicity, philosophy, socioeconomic demographics, or gender because everything we have is a “gift . . . coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights” (James 1:17, niv).
An environment of common grace creates a world where there is no room to be personally offended, no need to be afraid of engaging with others, and no value in hammering at different topics with dogmatism to prove we are right. Rather than turning anyone away in condemnation or discomfort, when we advocate for the dignity of common grace, we see every conversation as a gift, every perspective as a gift, and every person we encounter as a gift. We begin to anticipate conversations as ways to expose the brilliance of God’s love instead of our own brilliance. We can have conversations on any topic and with any person, trusting God himself will use every interaction to deepen our collective hunger for love.
Do you believe God has granted you with thousands of gifts—that you are a gift?
We will not be able to change a relationally violent conversation into a graceful conversation unless we know—heart and soul—that all we are and have is a gift. We won’t be able to seek out difficult people, arrogant people, narcissistic people, or hurting people unless we believe they are a gift and trust God’s gifts to us to be our offering to others.
All too often when we participate in or observe difficult conversations, we forget that real people are involved. When the interaction becomes about our ego, our reputation, our fear, or our personal offense, it is hijacked by a distorted and damaging view of the reason we discourse with others in the first place—finding the Way back to belonging. Remember the time you proved your rightness and others asked you to tell them about Jesus? Me neither.
[i] Don Hazen, “Fear Dominates Politics, Media, and Human Existence in America—And It’s Getting Worse,” alternet.org, March 1, 2015, https://www.alternet.org/2015/03/fear-dominates-politics-media-and-human-existence-america-and-its-getting-worse/.
[ii] Baltasar Gracián, The Art of Worldly Wisdom (Overland Park, KS: Digireads, 2018), 39.
[iii] Dr. Timothy Keller, “What Is Common Grace?” andyandjanine.com, September 26, 2017, http://andyandjanine.com/what-is-common-grace-tim-keller/.