Prevenient Grace

God is His own Evangelist

Jesus tells us a story of the Father who had two sons, who ran away in different directions and in different ways. One son ends up taking the pathway of debauchery, and lands unexpectedly in a pigpen. But in his misery the runaway son heard the voice of memory, more dominating than the squeal of the pigs, calling him home. Of course he might not have recognize these reminders from his past, as the voice of God, but God uses whatever means he can to give voice to his words. It may have been the rumbling of his belly that awakened him, but God is not above using such means to gain our attention. When the young man comes to himself, he hurries towards home, and is met by the father while still on the road, and brought home to a celebration of salvation.

The older son, of course, never ran away, but he was always distant, and perhaps more lost than this younger sibling. He was lost in his own back yard!  But the Father meets him too, and pleads with him, inviting him to come home and share in the joy.

The theologians have a name for this activity of God. They call it “prevenient grace”. They use this phrase to indicate that the gracious God is seeking us long before any of us ever seek Him. His grace is always reaching out to us, encouraging us to reach out to him. The God who is everywhere, is everywhere active, and everywhere calling all persons to turn homeward.

This is good news for those of us who wish to share faith with friends! Before I ever speak to my neighbour or colleague, God Himself has already been speaking before I got there. “God,” C.S. Lewis reminds us, “whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” (The Problem of Pain) And he whispers, speaks and shouts, not only to us, but also to all humankind. What a privilege to be workers together with God!


Further thoughts on the theme of Prevenient Grace

The Hound of Heaven
by Francis Thompson

I fled Him, down the nights and down the days;
I fled Him, down the arches of the years;
I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways
Of my own mind; and in the mist of tears
I hid from Him, and under running laughter.
Up vistaed hopes I sped;
And shot, precipitated,
Adown Titanic glooms of chasmèd fears,
From those strong Feet that followed, followed after.

But with unhurrying chase,
And unperturbèd pace,
Deliberate speed, majestic instancy,
They beat — and a voice beat
More instant than the Feet —
“All things betray thee, who betrayest Me.”

I pleaded, outlaw-wise,
By many a hearted casement, curtained red,
Trellised with intertwining charities;
(For, though I knew His love Who followèd,
Yet was I sore adread
Lest, having Him, I must have naught beside.)

But, if one little casement parted wide,
The gust of his approach would clash it to :
Fear wist not to evade, as Love wist to pursue.

Across the margent of the world I fled,
And troubled the gold gateways of the stars,
Smiting for shelter on their clangèd bars….

Psalm 139:7-12 (NRSV)

7 Where can I go from your spirit?
Or where can I flee from your presence?
8 If I ascend to heaven, you are there;
if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.
9 If I take the wings of the morning
and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,
10 even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me fast.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
and the light around me become night,”
12 even the darkness is not dark to you;
the night is as bright as the day,
for darkness is as light to you.

Published in Light and Life,  July-August, 2004

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