We were having a discussion about “free will” vs. “unfree will” (we’re studying the writings of Nietzsche). A few students in the class voiced their opinion that free will isn’t actually free because God can make us change our minds.
One brave theology major weighed in saying that WE change our own minds when we allow God to act in our lives. He doesn’t force us. There were lots of nodding heads and lots of shaking heads, too.
“Grace is transformative,” I said in the most certain voice I have.
“I believe you,” replied my professor. And I think he was serious, too.
I still have no idea why I said it. It’s true, of course, but didn’t exactly fit in a discussion about Nietzsche’s philosophical constructs.
I had no idea Friday afternoon how much that statement would mean to me by Sunday afternoon.
Saturday, right after a performance with our German Singing society, my husband’s blood pressure bottomed out. He was fine. And then he wasn’t. At. All.
He’d never had this problem before, so we had no idea what was wrong. As I drove him to the hospital (where he did not wish to go) I kept asking him if his vision had cleared up. No, his vision still looked like a color photo negative and his chest did not hurt, “I’m just tired, honey. Let’s go home and I’ll nap. I’ll be fine.”
Something told me that wasn’t true, so I tricked him into going to the ER. (Okay, I drove him there, parked the car and refused to drive anywhere else.) It turns out that had I followed his course of action, I might be a widow today.
After a couple of very scary hours of dangerously low blood pressure and failing kidneys, they finally got enough fluid in him to pull him out of the basement. Still, they were extremely concerned about his kidney function. He needed some testing for blood clots and couldn’t do it because it would shut his kidneys down completely.
When things like this happen, none of my actions nor any intelligence I possess can change anything.
I can’t think to pray – I simply can’t remember the prayers. In fact, I can’t think of much, at all. So I mobilized our friends and asked for prayers rather than trying (and failing) to pray all by myself.
Within an hour, his blood pressure came up and he was beginning to be more coherent. They admitted him to do further testing and to watch him over the weekend, but by this morning, his kidneys were working again and his body chemistry was returning to normal.
The doctors were very surprised. They had truly expected to have him for at least two more days while his body geared back up. But, Sunday afternoon, he was sitting across the table from me as if nothing happened.
Grace, a free gift from God that we in no way merit through our actions, sounds like a magic trick to a person who doesn’t believe, I’m sure.
But it isn’t.
When Grace acts in our lives, we have the choice to allow it to flow through us and inform our actions, or not. Everyone has Grace presented to them, so everyone has the same chance to accept or reject the gift.That’s where free will comes into play. When we abandon our will to God, we open ourselves to allowing God to work in our lives. Sometimes that means turning everything over to someone else. Sometimes it means acting.
In this surrender, Grace builds Charity. St. Augustine refers to the interior structure of Charity that supports our spiritual lives. Charity is understood as love, and it reinforces things and makes us stronger – not just in spirit and in deeds, but also in the material world. As we become more and more accustomed to allowing Grace to operate in our lives, we turn from willing to do the bad, to willing to do the good.
Grace is transformative. It changes things. Not just in your head. Not just in your heart, but in reality. It builds things that were not there before. It can repair relationships and even bodies. So, as my friends and relatives picked up the news and prayed, Grace was at work. And when some who don’t believe in God even asked for prayers from their friends, Grace was at work there, too.
Grace whispers in our ears constantly, believers and non-believers alike, and it’s up to us to listen and act accordingly. And it really is best to listen, because Grace always knows best.
Copyright 2014 Katie O’Keefe