August 17, 2013

Chester V. Clark III: Finding grace

— Sometimes grace appears at unlikely times and in unlikely places.

Take for example the period just before the biblical flood of Genesis, chapters six and seven. It was a terrible time of rampant iniquity and ubiquitous corruption. The Bible describes it from God’s perspective: “And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the Earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” (Genesis 6:5)

Not only were the sinful perversions pervasive, but there also seems to have been a presumption that those sins would go unpunished. “Everything is going to continue in the future the way it’s always been in the past,” the philosophers and scientists of the day assured the more than willingly-persuadable populace (see 2 Peter 3). Sin was easy, vice prevalent, and to all appearances even those who wildly flaunted their ethical and moral abuses seemed to be eluding the just desserts of their deeds.

The way the Bible recounts this story, it almost seems that such an overwhelming majority of Earth’s citizens were thus “prospering” in profligacy that only one came to God’s attention as living a morally upright life. It’s recounted so simply and matter of fact — yet it’s an astounding and beautiful rehearsal of truth: “But Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord.” (Genesis 6:8)  

It would be easy for us to discount the magnitude of this statement. Could it really have been that bad back then? Could Noah really have been such a standout? We might even (subconsciously) figure that if we had been there, alive in the days of Noah, we too would have been added to this short list.

But would we? Let’s face it: We’re born as fallen individuals in a fallen world where the way we naturally think is quite different from the way God thinks (Isaiah 55:9). In fact, Jesus put it very succinctly: “That which is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God.” (Luke 16:15) The world we’re a part of, like Noah’s, glorifies and glamorizes sin, while heaven condemns it. Many today (dare I say it, even Christians?) love sin and hate sinners, while the God of heaven loves sinners but hates sin.

Inbred within us in this upside down world in which we’re born is a desire to please those around us, to “fit in,” and to be liked. If we could distill the differences between Noah and his antediluvian neighbors into one overarching concept, it would be this: Noah cared more about what God thought than about what his neighbors thought. He chose to learn to think like God, rather than be swept along with the confused and muddled morals of the day. The Bible sometimes describes this as the “fear of God,” a positive concept not incongruous with a God of love. (More on this next month.)

That Noah found grace or favor in the eyes of God is indeed surprising, considering his surroundings. But it is also encouraging! For if, as Jesus predicted, the last days of this Earth’s history are to be similar in many ways to Noah’s time (Matthew 24:37), we too will need to find grace as well.

One cannot help but note the way Noah is described in the New Testament. “By faith Noah, being warned of God of things not seen as yet, moved with fear, prepared an ark to the saving of his house; by the which he condemned the world, and became heir of the righteousness which is by faith.” (Hebrews 11:7) Yes! Noah, an Old Testament man who found favor in God’s eyes, lived by faith. Obeyed God in faith. And experienced righteousness by faith!

Every false religion is rooted in salvation by works. But Noah’s experience was not based on personal works but rooted in grace and lived by faith. Faith led him, moved by the grace of God, to build an ark. Grace and faith kept him pure even in an evil and perverted age.

And what about the days we’re living in? Could these be the times predicted by Jesus, when moral conditions would be similar to Noah’s day? Perhaps we need, more than ever before, to understand — and experience — grace and faith. “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God.” (Ephesians 2:8)

Sometimes grace appears at unlikely times and in unlikely places. Let’s pray for greater grace and faith here and now.

Chester Clark III is pastor at the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Dalton.