What is grace? Although it is not a physical thing, we must use physical words and concepts to describe God's grace because we are physical creatures. Let me start with an analogy. The air is laced with oxygen (21%). We need oxygen to live; but we cannot passively absorb the oxygen as a breeze blows by. We need to do something active–we need to breath the oxygen into our lungs. So it is with God's grace. It is not passive ownership of holiness; rather it is acquiring knowledge of and making commitment to God's plan.
Grace is not spiritual gasoline–something we can fill up on each Sunday to get us through the week. The Catechism teaches
The Sacraments are outward signs instituted by Christ to give grace. The picture this paints for me is God opening the top of our skulls and pouring in a pitcher full of grace through a funnel–with completely passive inaction on our part. Yes, I know grace is God's gift to us–we cannot acquire it by ourselves. But we must be truly open to it–we must actively seek it out. (
Knock, and the door will be opened for you. Luke 11:9, Mathew 7:7.)
I would define grace by example–what it does for us:
And how does grace do this? Through an awareness of God in our lives (what our purpose is) and through an appreciation of Jesus (what he did for us). Which is what the Sacraments do. They are spiritual encounters: the best way for us to
connect with God–the best way for us to strive to understand the
will of God–God's
plan for us–the way God
wants us to live.
[READ MORE: <!aclass=text href=/metaphysics/seven-sacraments.htm title="How Sacraments work">The Seven Sacraments NOT DONE YET]
The Three Great Virtues are: Hope, Faith, and Charity. I prefer this order because Hope leads to Faith which leads to Charity. (And there is feedback: Charity reinforces Faith which strengthens Hope.) These are God's gifts to us–we cannot acquire them on our own. But we must actively accept them and integrate them into our lives.
In Chapter 12 of his First Letter to the Corinthians, Paul of Tarsus addresses the many gifts of the Holy Spirit. And in Chapter 13, he writes [with some reordering]:
Now only three remain [for discussion]–hope, faith, and charity. The greatest of these is charity. If I speak with the languages of men and of angels, but do not have charity, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I dole out all my goods to feed the poor, and if I give my body to be burned, but do not have charity, it profits me nothing. If I have the gift of prophecy, and if I understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have faith strong enough to move mountains, but do not have charity, I am nothing.
Well, I guess we know where Paul comes out in the controversy over
Salvation by Faith or Good Works.
Actually I do not see this as a choice between Faith and Good Works (Charity). Faith demands Good Works–we cannot really believe in an all-perfect God and not be compelled to express that belief by Charity toward our fellow creatures. To state it negatively–if we have Faith we cannot be serial killers; if we are serial killers, we cannot really have Faith. We can claim to have it, but we cannot be serious. It is impossible for us to believe in the perfection of God and God's creation and then deliberately destroy part of it. It is impossible for us to go around killing people, while at the same time having Faith in a God who creates and respects all creatures.
Faith and Charity are fellow travelers on our journey to salvation. Faith is necessary for salvation–we cannot earn our way to salvation no matter how many Good Works we perform. Faith is freely given by God, but we must engage. Good Works are the ways we respond to God's gift of Faith. Through Charity we appreciate God's love for ourself. We realize God loves all creatures the same and therefore we must respond to God's love for us by loving our fellow creatures.
Predestination as a concept just doesn't work. What would be God's motivation? Why would God want to pre-mark some people as saved no matter what they do? Why would God want to pre-mark some people as damned no matter what they do? Why roll the dice when they are fertilized rather than when they die? Further, on what basis would God select the dammed and the saved–pull numbers out of a hat on Wednesday mornings at 10:30? From a human perspective, if you knew you were saved or damned no matter what you did, then why not live your life to the fullest–who cares about rest of society. Murder and mayhem would result.
Predestination is an ancient conundrum. The concept is that our physical universe emanates from the will of God. Yes. And that God knows the past, present, and future. Yes. (Time is an artifact of God's creation.) Therefore, since God created us knowing our future, we are predestined for heaven or hell. Er, NO!
The fallacy with predestination is a misconception about time–an incorrect view of time. Time is an artifact of the physical space-time continuum. But time does not exist in the spiritual Universe. There is no ordering or sequencing of events. Spiritual creatures just are–they exist only.
The other issue with predestination is that it assumes a discrete after-life–heaven OR hell. Again the spiritual Universe is different from the physical space-time continuum. There are no places in the after-life–there is no way to separate spiritual creatures–they cannot congregate or arrange themselves. Heaven and hell are not different locations. In heaven, John Paul II and Mother Teresa will be
rubbing elbows with the greatest villains of history. In hell, Stalin, Hitler and Máo will be
rubbing elbows with the greatest saints of all time. Saints and sinners altogether–all sharing the same after-life–all wearing shirts with large holes at the elbows.
Heaven and hell are not places or locations; they are states or conditions. Hell is eternal regret for what we could have done, how much greater could have been our contribution to the lives of our fellow creatures. Heaven is eternal satisfaction at the positive difference we did make in the lives of those we encountered along our journey to God. Thus, we all saved to some degree and we are all damned to some degree.
Yah, I know. You think I've just cheated you out of your promised paradise–a land flowing with milk and honey. Well, I think you will find
eternal satisfaction much sweater than an endless supply of double-dark-chocolate German Black-Forest Cake.
Let's briefly visit Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs–a 1943 psychological theory widely used in marketing today. Maslow postulated that animal needs (survival) must be satisfied before less-essential goals of self-actualization. The hierarchy begins with purely physical needs, such as a full belly and a warm place to sleep; passes through emotional stages, such as health, family, and emotional intimacy; and culminates in strictly intellectual states, such as creativity, self-esteem, respect from others, and sense of accomplishment. The achievement of goals at the
top of the hierarchy is vastly more rewarding than the goals at the
bottom of the hierarchy. [Why else would I be devoting large portions of my remaining time on Earth to explain my cosmological theories to you?]
So it will be in the after-life. We will discover that the spiritual Universe is vastly more rewarding than the physical Universe. Let me summarize with another quote from First Corinthians:
When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I felt as a child, I thought as a child. Now that I am an adult, I have put away childish ways. Now we see in a mirror, dimly; then we will see face to face. For now I know in part, but then I will know fully.
[And now, consolation prizes for those of you who are not quite ready to give up on your physical model of Heaven:
No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no heart has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him.
In my Father's house are many rooms. If it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.]