Religion & Culture | The true, healing power of divine grace
"We were not good but God had pity on us. ... So my brothers, we had no good works, for all our works were evil. Yet, although men's actions were such, God, in his mercy did not abandon them ..."
- St Augustine of Hippo
John braved subzero degrees navigating icy roads and sidewalks and the intimidating mounds of snow that had accumulated the night before. It was a potentially life-threatening ordeal.
His thin layer of clothing and worn shoes had made sure of that. He fell twice on his way to a deli that sold what he craved. But he was unbowed, senselessly and destructively inching his way to his skewed sense of paradise a mile away.
The streets were caked white, cars were buried in snow as the wind whistled an eerie sound that foretold imminent doom. John fell for the third time but was closer to the drink he desperately needed. He gathered what senses he had left to finally reaching his destination.
He wobbled inside, grabbing as many bottles of beer his nervous hands could carry. He ignored the stares of the clerk and a lone customer. The mile back to his home could prove even more onerous. He shivered, his knees buckled and he fell for the fourth time, his forehead smashing into hard ice.
His package flew from his grip. He remained motionless. His past flashed before him and so too the future. It was wrathfully daunting - jail, a degenerative brain disease or death. He had lost the battle against the wiles of alcoholism.
Suddenly, a hand lodged itself under his armpit and lifted him. He was helped into a car that a stranger, a Good Samaritan, drove, and was taken home. There, he knew the war was over. He fell to his knees folding himself in a fetal position.
In his heart he cried out for help. That was 10 years ago. John has not picked up another drink since that epiphanic day. He was cured of an illness that had strafed his life, cured by the gift of divine grace.
Candice's healing was markedly more dramatic. She is a heavy-set woman in her 40s. Mild-mannered, taciturn and immaculately dressed, she was about to pray for the sick at a nursing home in Harlem. Before we parted ways she chronicled her past as a homeless, drug-addicted prostitute.
She recalled sleepless nights, mental confusion and an insatiable need for crack cocaine and angel dust that stripped her of any ounce of dignity left.
More important, she recaptured her salvation, a divine rescue, she calls it, that occurred in the blink of an eye.
She was taken to a stranger's house by a friend, also an addict and woman of the street. Candice had no idea that this stranger was a minister (she believed that she was going to meet a drug dealer). Shortly after her arrival the minister began praying fervently for both women. Miraculously, this marked the last time Candice used drugs and prostituted herself.
She reminisced on that ineffable moment. According to Candice, words could not explain the otherworldly feeling that came over her. Oblivious of her physical surroundings, her spirit seemed to have soared through the heavens.
Sadly, her friend was not that fortunate. The clarion call of the streets devoured her. Not long after she succumbed to AIDS.
John and Candice were saved by an almost indefinable quality called divine grace.
Grace is God's gift to the undeserving. It is free and unmerited. In the article 'What does Divine Grace Do For Us', Deacon McManaman elaborates on this abstract, bewildering concept.
He writes, "Grace ... is the infused presence of God, a presence that is supernatural. And there is nothing we can do ourselves to earn grace. Rather, divine grace is a favour, freely bestowed ... It is grace that renders the person holy and favourable to God. Grace renders the soul beautiful."
He goes on to state that a person bathed in grace displays gratitude and inspiration to pray and serve, a strong will and an enlightened mind. (https://www.catholiceducation.org/en/religion-and-philosophy/apologetics...)
Embraced in other faiths
Divine grace is also embraced in other faiths. In Islam, the believer is reminded of God's mercy in Sura Rahman, a moving chapter in the Quran that is characterised by the refrain: "So which of the favours of your Lord would you deny?"
In Hindu Vedas it is called kripa, meaning a mercy or blessing. It is viewed as the key to spiritual liberation.
While many are convinced that divine grace exists, questions persist, in particular: Why are some bestowed this favour from God and others are bereft of any divine help?
If we are to believe that we are all children of God why are some favoured and others are not?
In the case of Candice, her friend had also approached the minister for help. She yearned for redemption more than Candice, who had no clue that she was meeting a man of the cloth.
If we embrace the teleological argument for God's existence and the unfolding of creation (that there is reason and purpose to life), then we can argue that divine grace is never arbitrarily given and, therefore, there are reasons why John and Candice were divinely rescued.
And since we cannot believe that God discriminates among his children, we can surmise that we rightly deserve what is due to us.
I am of the opinion that we all have in our possession a spiritual bank account. Our account is well-funded when we are ethical, selfless, humble, gracious, forgiving, respectful to our parents and elders (who in turn bless us) and kind to animals, etc.
When we are troubled or caught in perilous situations, the positive, magnanimous energies that we have accrued over time flow to our aid. This is divine grace. And this is where I part ways with the Christian concept of grace.
Grace is earned although we, for the most part, are unaware of the dynamic, energetic exchanges we have with the Cosmos.
And what of Candice's friend and the millions who have cried out for help in all sincerity but succumbed? No one is in a position to cast stones. What is assured, though, is that lessons unveil themselves without end.
And when we learn from the shortcomings and failures of others they, too, have become part of an ever evolving humanity.
- Dr Glenville Ashby is an award-winning author. His audiobook, Anam Cara: Your Soul Friend and Bridge to Enlightenment and Creativity is available at Amazon and Audible.com