“In God’s economy, everyone profits.” I turned that little phrase as a paraphrase of Romans 8:28. At the time I was thinking about the tragedy of divorce and the unforeseeable joy when ex-spouses emerge happier on the other side of it, and perhaps with partners who were themselves unhappy before. It is not always so, God knows. But God is always about reconciliation and peace, new beginnings and grace, even when those graces may be viewed (by some) with bitterness.
I am thinking about other transitions too. Soon I will be moving to another church, and this past week I was hosting my replacement as he met the leadership of our church. It felt like I was introducing my girlfriend to her new boyfriend, to her new and better boyfriend, in fact! He will be a much better fit: has local roots, a folksy demeanor that matches the ethos, ears that allow him to banter (while I am deaf as a post). It is a match made in heaven.
As they chatted happily, I mused, cataloged all that has happened over the last few weeks and months that brought us to this transition, and not least some hurtful, unfair, and finally humiliating discussions that prompted me to put my name on the move list. I chose to leave, but I had hoped to stay. And so a part of me is angry, though below that I am just embarrassed and sad (and resentful: the legalistic part of me does not want to see even subtle subversion rewarded!). But if not for all of that I would not on Thursday have received the news that reduced me to tears and made me all but unable to talk to my new District Superintendent. I am so humbled, so honored, so blessed to be going where I’m being sent. All is well. Everybody profits.
Now there will be unhappy preachers in our conference, and unhappy churches too (been there, done that). And there is no guarantee on this side of Jordan that everybody profits now or lastingly. But each time we see a resolution on account of which everyone is happier and more fulfilled—and all of it an unexpected joy on the downside of difficulty—we can be sure that God is at work, and miraculously so. When EVERYONE profits, that is sure evidence, I believe, of the mystery and majesty and wonder of God’s economy.
Jesus said, “Peace I leave you; my peace I give you. I do not give as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” Jesus is saying, I believe, what Paul and I are echoing. That is, in this world there are clear winners and clear losers, judged by the categories of this economy’s spreadsheets. But in God’s economy there is a kind of divine giving that allows everyone to profit, to win, to be at peace. It may offend us, of course, that God works this way (remember the workers in the vineyard?), but ultimately we all come to realize that all is grace.
All is grace: that is really hard news, and really good news, and demands deep humility. One dimension of that humility is accepting grace for ourselves, and that is difficult because we have been taught to think “salvation” is a “reward” of our own hard work (and as a consequence we will not accept charity from anyone, even God, or “bless” anyone who does). More difficult still is accepting God’s grace for someone else, and especially one who has hurt us, others who are “ahead” of us or—though we hardly pause to parse this non sequitur—those we view as “less deserving” of God’s grace than ourselves.
But Frederick Buechner writes that until it is good for all of us, it is not good for any of us. In other words, when everybody wins, there is God’s joy and the very peace of Christ. Weeping and loss may be the sign that all is not yet as it will be, but we believe the Day is coming; indeed, that It is already on Its way.
Author Tom Steagald is working on a new book titled A HOUSE OF PRAYER: THE POWER OF PRAYING IN COMMUNITY. He welcomes your comments.