God Gives Enough

God Gives Enough March 31, 2012

In his God’s Companions: Reimagining Christian Ethics (Challenges in Contemporary Theology) , Samuel Wells challenges the assumption of scarcity that he takes to be “a consistent majority strand in Christian ethics . . . that ethics the very difficult enterprise of making bricks from straw.”

It seems there is not enough of anything:

“there is not enough information – we know too little about the human body, about the climate, about what makes wars happen, about how to bring people out of poverty, about what guides the economy. There is not enough wisdom – there are not enough forums for the exchange of understanding, for learning from the past, for bringing people from different disciplines together, and there is not enough intelligence to solve abiding problems. There are not enough resources – world population is growing, and there is insufficient access to education, clean water, food, health care, and the means of political influence. There is not enough revelation – the Bible is a lugubrious and often ambiguous document, locked into its time, unable to address the problems of today with the clarity required. Fundamentally, I suggest, this whole assumption of scarcity rests on there being not enough God. Somehow God, in creation, Israel, Jesus and the Church, and in the promise of the eschaton, has still not done enough, given enough, been enough, such that the imagined ends of Christian ethics are and will always be tantalizingly out of reach.”

On the contrary, Wells says, God gives enough, and He puts it well without our reach: “He gives them everything they need in the past: this is heritage; and everything they could possibly imagine in the future; this is destiny. He gives them the Holy Spirit, making past and future present in the life of the Church. He gives them a host of practices – ways in which to form Christians, embody them in Christ, receive all that God, one another, and the world have to give them, be reconciled and restored when things go wrong, and share food as their defining political, economic, and social act. The things he gives are not in short supply: love, joy, peace. The way these gifts are embodied is through the practices of the Church: witness, catechesis, baptism, prayer, friendship, hospitality, admonition, penance, confession, praise, reading scripture, preaching, sharing peace, sharing food, washing feet. These are boundless gifts of God.”

The real problem is not scarcity but excess, overwhelming, drowning excess: “God’s inexhaustible creation, limitless grace, relentless mercy, enduring purpose, fathomless love: it is just too much to contemplate, assimilate, understand. This is the language of abundance. And if humans turn away it is sometimes out of a misguided but understandable sense of self-protection, a preservation of identity in the face of a tidal wave of glory.”

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