July 8, 2005

Cornucopia / Cynthia Dewes

No need to justify God’s generosity

Next to laying blame, justification has to be one of the most common human practices. It can be challenging, creative and downright fun.

Recently my husband was delighted when he could say truthfully, “The dog ate my homework (map)!” after our niece’s dog playfully chewed up the directions to her home. This is a small example of the pleasure we take in justifying events in our lives, not to mention our own actions.

Most of the time we’re trying to justify something we’ve done that we sense or know is wrong, and for which we feel guilty. Indeed, the dictionary defines justification as “The act of God, whereby man is made or accounted just, or freed from the guilt or penalty of sin.”

However, the justification we practice often has nothing to do with an act of God. For instance, we justify dropping a lonely dollar in the second collection plate because we don’t have change for a five, or the kids will need lunch money next week, or maybe we’ll pay that library fine on Monday. Would God “act” that way?

What we put in the collection basket each week also may depend, not upon imitating God’s generosity, but rather worrying about having “extra” money we can spare. Or we deny charitable appeals because we heard that most of the money doesn’t really get to the needy anyway. Besides, their TV give-a-thons are tacky.

Justification, in the theological sense was, and continues to be, a big issue between Roman Catholics and many Protestants. They understand that faith in God’s grace is the operative factor in justification—that is, we must believe that God alone has the power to free us from sin. It’s a gift without strings attached. But Roman Catholics also understand that if we have faith, we’ll naturally try to avoid sin and perform good works.

This is where the generosity of God in his infinite grace takes over. God gives us so many things, just for the heck of it. We have the beauty of the earth, the seasons and every kind of plant and animal to admire. Lovely wildflowers grow where few people can see them, birds sweetly care for their young whether we’re watching them or not, and geographical wonders are everywhere, all demonstrating further evidence of God’s grace.

We have the richness of relationships with other beings and the surprises of everyday existence, which both startle and delight us. Strangers smile at us on the subway or store clerks help us pack our purchases carefully or pets stick by our sides. People are kind, helpful and attentive when no reward if offered or nobody else can see.

Mathematical formulas or scientific proofs or philosophical ideas thrill us with their brilliance. Well-written, insightful books enrich our understanding, and beautiful music warms our senses. Intelligence and loyalty, as well as kindness and moral strength, keep us aware that God is present in all people and in all gifts.

How, then, do we justify the goodness God freely gives us?

In short, we can’t. There’s no accounting for the grace that gives us human life and, at the end, saves us. We can only say “Thank you” for the ultimate justification, which is Christ’s sacrifice.

(Cynthia Dewes, a member of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Greencastle, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.)


Local site Links: