March 2007 - Vol. 6

The Day God Went Crazy

“The indwelling of God in us purifies and transform us us his own way of thinking, desiring, and acting.”

by Carlos Mantica

This article is excerpted from his book, From Egghood to Birdhood: Hatch or Rot as a Christian, 2001 (available in Spanish and English)

Christ in Gethsemane, a painting by Michael O'Brien

The immensity and beauty of grace
It is said that a peasant from the northern mountains of Nicaragua once went down to the seashore for the first time in his life, and wanted to see the ocean. When he came to the beach he stayed there in ecstasy, watching the immensity of the ocean, and for several hours he did not utter a word. All he did was to contemplate, in deep meditation. Then he stood up, took an empty bottle in his hands, went into the sea, and filled it with water. When he was asked what he wanted the water for, he replied: "In my town they don’t know the sea. I’m taking this bottle to them so they can know what it is."

In order to understand what the sea is, you have to plunge into it. And then we can understand perfectly how delightful it is, and at the same time stand in awe at its immensity and its power.

The holy writers of the Old Testament never attempted to define grace. In order to explain it, they resorted to the words that God himself used when he revealed himself to Moses as the God of grace: The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful (rahamim in Hebrew) and gracious (hen), slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love (hesed) and faithfulness (emet), keeping steadfast love (hesed) for thousands... (Exodus 34:6).

In God, grace is at once mercy that pities over misery (hen), loving steadfastness towards his own (hesed), unyielding solidness in his commitments (emet), wholehearted adherence of the whole being to those he loves (rahamim), inexhaustible justice (tsedeq) that is able to bestow on all his creatures the fulness of their rights, and to fill all their aspirations.

What God reveals to Moses is his own character, what God is. God is love. God is hesed. God is faithful. God is kindness and mercy. God is loyalty. God is grace!

With the same words they express that which they had experienced as God’s grace. And what they have experienced is that God, in a free, gratuitous way, out of sheer love, had chosen Israel and had made a covenant with them. They were to be his people and he would be their God. They are clear that this love of God for Israel and this choice had nothing to do with what Israel is, with what Israel has done, or with what Israel has or deserves. They are clear that this is pure grace of God, his free gift.

God indwelling in his people
Grace is also God’s indwelling in his people—God’s presence, theophany. God dwells among his people. He leads them, he guides them, he protects them, he forms them, he sanctifies them.

This indwelling of God in us is not like having a relative or a mother-in-law living in your house. It is an indwelling that will gradually purify us, form us and transform us into God himself, giving us his own way of thinking, of desiring and of acting.

St. Paul comes to the point of saying that "All is grace." Not because grace is many different things, but because it is like a light that, being one, breaks itself up into multiple colors.

In fact, St. John is the first to use the word “light” when he wants to speak about grace, and tells us that Christ, the Word, “is light and in him is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5). All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it (John 1:3-5).

Like light, grace cannot co-exist with darkness, but overcomes it by dissipating the darkness of sin. Like light, grace is communicated when it gives itself, and yet we cannot say that we possess light; we could rather say that the light possesses us and surrounds us, and enlightens us, and helps us to see ourselves as we actually are (the Holy Spirit "will convince... concerning sin and righteousness and judgment," John 16:8) and shows us the path to follow.

Light is a fountain of joy, of security and peace, and shows us the reality of things (without it, confusion reigns). Walking in the light is living in truth, but it is also walking and living in the Kingdom of Grace, and not under the dominion of the law.

But, above all, light makes us similar to itself, to a certain extent. It is John who tells us that one day we will be like Christ, because we will see him face to face. Light does not change us into light, but enlightens us and gives us some of its own features. God has not yet made us gods, because we can only see him as it were through a veil, but he has made us divine. Grace divinizes us.

A law not written on stones but on hearts
"By grace you have been saved," says Paul (Ephesians 2:5). For us, the supreme grace is the salvation that God offers in Jesus Christ.

God had manifested himself to the Israelites and had established a covenant with his people. He set them free from slavery by using all his power, he granted them forgiveness, and he gave them a law so that they would relate to each other the same way he was relating to them. The Israelites lived under the law, and were unable to obey it. God then told them that he would give them a law, not written on stone, but on their hearts.

And it was then that God went crazy.

Christ Jesus... though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being born in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:6-8)
The God of grace and kindness, rich in mercy, but who does not leave the guilty unpunished, then laid the sins of his people on the head of his Son. The scapegoat became the Lamb of God, the victim of propitiation for the sins of his people, who died for us once for all.
He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is dumb, so he opened not his mouth... He was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people..." (Isaiah 53:7-9)
Set free from bondage to sin, the devil, and death
Since the old covenant was not enough, at a given moment God went crazy and established a new covenant. This time he would not write the law on tables of stone, but in our very hearts. This time, God’s gift was his own Son, whom he gave over to death for us. He did not come to abolish the law but to fulfill it. In him the fulness of God’s power was manifested, and he set us free from the bondage of the devil, of sin and of death.

He showed us how we were to relate to each other, not as a written word but by loving us to the extreme, and commanding us to love in the same way he loved us.

And this Son, the night before his death, knowing that it was not part of our nature to love as God had loved us, just as it was not part of the Israelites’ nature to obey the law of Moses, he promised us his own Spirit, the Gift of God that was announced to the Samaritan woman: the love of God that has been poured on our hearts. He is the one who writes the law on our hearts, giving us the same way of being of God, and God’s way of loving.

He who promised to stay with us to the end of the age now inhabits our hearts through the Holy Spirit, in union with the Father. We have now become children of God, brothers and sisters of Christ, living temples of his Spirit and heirs of heaven, in order to sanctify us, which amounts to divinizing us, because God alone is Holy.

The gift is now complete. It is complete and gratuitous. All is grace. God has given himself over to us, and dwells wholly in us. He works in us and through us. There is nothing we can do to deserve this. But the merits of Christ have been credited to us.

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Behold, the dwelling of God is with men. He will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself will be with them." (Revelations 21:3).

[Carlos Mantica is a past president of The Sword of the Spirit and the founding leader of La Cuidad de Dios, a member community of The Sword of the Spirit in Managua. He is a national advisor of the Cursillo Movement in Nicaragua.  He is a prolific writer and noted author and member of the Nicaraguan Academy of Language. This article is excerpted from his book, From Egghood to Birdhood: Hatch or Rot as a Christian, 2001. Used with permission.]

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