Saturday, April 17, 2010

Arks of Grace

We all know the story of Noah and the ark: grace comes in the midst of a flood. The grace is actually carefully planned before the first raindrop falls, when God talks to Noah, giving him precise instruction as to how to avoid the coming catastrophe.

The provision of grace to Noah can be broken down into recognizable acts of God.

• Noah is known. God sees Noah, recognizes Noah’s faithfulness and makes gracious provision for him. Our love for God and our lives of obedience amidst the hordes are not unnoticed by God.

• A way of escape is planned. Just as God’s command to Adam and Eve in the garden may not have made immediate sense to them, the word to Noah—build something called an ark in the middle of the desert that had never known rain, much less a flood—could not have been reasonable in any human sense to Noah; still, it was the word of the Lord, and Noah was a blameless and upright man.

• The future of all of mankind was secured. You and I would not be here now but for the gracious provision for those in the ark. Grace is found in this provision for millions of future generations through the life and work of one blameless man.

• The act of grace is secured by God’s promise. The rainbow may be explained by a physicist with a prism, but its meaning as a sign of God’s gracious covenant is clear to all who know God.

God sends arks of grace. I believe that the ark is a manifestation of the grace of God. Sinful society has so separated itself from God that it is on the road to destruction, yet God sends grace. Just as naked Adam and Eve were given clothes, just as Cain received his mark, now Noah and his family receive building instructions for an ark. Following those instructions faithfully, Noah finds himself with the only salvation available.

Floods come to us for all sorts of reasons.

• We cause them. Often, every intention of our heart is only evil all the time. We get what we deserve. Our sins find us out.

• Others cause them. Sometimes, we have been blameless, but the sins of others catch us up in the storm, bringing us disease, destruction, divorce, disappointment or disloyalty. Wars rage over issues that have nothing to do with us, yet we are caught in the crossfire.

• Nature causes them. We may never understand this side of heaven why the tornado or the hurricane comes, why the cancer strikes the healthy teenager, why psychosis attacks the brilliant mind.

• God allows them. For some storms, there is no explanation for us. We can struggle with the questions of why an omniscient, omnipotent, all-loving God can allow them; whether we find an answer or not, God allows the storms.

The lesson is that arks — just like the floods — come to us in all sorts of ways.

• Sometimes, we build them. We hear a word from God, and we understand His instructions. Faithfully following, we find ourselves positioned to ride the storm out, rising above the waves.

• Others build them for us. God works through the church, through our friends, through the prayers of those whom we have never met. Through driving rains, we see the hands of rescuers that reach out to us, lifting us out of the rushing tide.

• Though we often miss them, some arks come to us naturally. The hands of the doctor, the calm of the southern wind, the mutation that fights the disease—God’s grace often is extended to us in ways that have no explanation beyond nature taking its course. It was, after all, a great rush of wind that parted the Red Sea.

• God simply intervenes. The word “miracle” has gone out of style for some, but we cannot ignore the arks that come without explanation other than the grace of God.

To be sure, grace does not come to all in the same way. Some are saved from the flood; others are protected through the flood; still others are swept away by the flood, only to receive the ultimate healing of the grace of God through eternity.

When I was writing the lyrics to my first published anthem, "He Gives More Grace," I initially had a line in it about "arks of grace." I was persuaded to change the line to "gifts of grace," because, I was told, many would not know what I was talking about otherwise. Perhaps that is true, but I find in Noah's ark as amazing example of the grace of God.


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