August 18, 2019

The Ninth Sunday after Trinity:

Today’s collect is is one that “sticks in the craw” for many. And although this is true in modern times, it has also been true for generations. Unfortunately for those who struggle with the words of this prayer, they are completely scripture-based. (And this is actually something that shines about the Book of Common Prayer. It is composed of something like 80% actual scripture, but arranged for prayer. Awesome.) So, because it is scripturally sound, we have got to grapple with it in good faith. Let’s take a look at the collect in question:

Grant to us, Lord, we beseech thee,
the spirit to think and do
always such things as be rightful;
that we, who cannot do any thing that is good without thee,
may by thee be enabled to live according to thy will;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Tough questions

There are many “eternal questions” that have troubled philosophers and people of faith over millennia: Where did we come from, What is our purpose, Why is there evil in the world, and so on. A question that Christians often find more difficult than any of these is simply, How can we explain unbelievers who lead admirable lives? I have only two thoughts to convey in response to this.

The origin of goodness

God created everything good. And without him nothing was created. That’s the story of Genesis 1. He created men and women in his image, and he created the earth, plants, animals, all of it – good. And though all of life is marred by human disobedience, the inherent goodness in creation still shines through. Romans 1:20 says that God’s “invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made” (ESV). So when we see evidence of God’s goodness in the created world, even in our fellow human beings, it should not surprise us.

Comparing apples and oranges

C. S. Lewis, in his beloved book Mere Christianity, has a chapter called “Nice People or New Men,” and it makes this next point better than I could hope to. When a person comes to faith, the works of the Holy Spirit should begin to appear – you know, “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23, NASB). However, the matter is not a simple one of comparing apples to apples.

“There are people (a great many of them) who are slowly ceasing to be Christians but who still call themselves by that name: some of them are clergymen. There are other people who are slowly becoming Christians though they do not yet call themselves so… And to judge the management of a factory, you must consider not only the output but the plant… What can you ever really know of other people’s souls – of their temptations, their opportunities, their struggles? One soul in the whole creation you do know: and it is the only one who whose fate is placed in your hands.”

Revisiting the Prayer

So though we are often tempted to compare one person with another, we never have all the facts. And the result is rarely (if ever) constructive. That’s why today’s prayer calls us to focus on something else – our own dependence on God to be truly good. And with that in mind, let’s pray again the words of today’s collect.

Grant to us, Lord, we beseech thee,
the spirit to think and do
always such things as be rightful;
that we, who cannot do any thing that is good without thee,
may by thee be enabled to live according to thy will;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.


 

August 18, 2019
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