Lesson 13: Love in a Theology of the Cross (Grace as Charm)

baby in a mangerOnce we define Christian love as unconditional compassion and unconditional forgiveness, we recognize it is gracious. Christians have no trouble speaking of God’s love as the grace that saves us. We are hesitant, however, to see our own loving behavior as grace that transforms the world, especially since Freud created a culture of suspicion. Nonetheless, whenever we are truly loved, we receive a gift. And whenever we love as Jesus teaches, we give one.

If we regard the crucifixion as the ultimate expression of God’s love for us, that love is obviously a gift. Jesus dies alone, abandoned by friends as well as enemies. Writing during the Christmas season, I am quite aware we describe the incarnation in the same way. The air is filled with thanks to God for the gift of the Christ child.

St. Paul links the two in Philippians 2 when he writes Christ Jesus “though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross. ”

Emptying oneself of power hardly seems a strategy for transforming society. Employing the strength needed to overwhelm or destroy opposition is certainly the way of this world. Still as we see all about us, violent power begets violent power. We do well to consider how the apparent weakness of love understood as grace works.

Recently I have done that by thinking of grace as charm. Assigned the commencement address for my granddaughter’s family Zoom graduation, I was trying to find a word for describing her qualities. I remembered Goethe describing the heroine in his Faust with “anmut” that is usually translated as graceful. I began thinking of grace as charm, and this charming quality of grace has fascinated me ever since.

A charming person by her very nature, by just being who she is, grants us a gift without demanding any response. Nonetheless, we do respond. We are charmed. We are so absorbed in the charmer that, we let down our defenses and become vulnerable. We lose ourselves to some extent, lose some control over our actions as we act with the graceful person in our mind and heart.

Jesus captured this graceful, charming feature of love when, in Luke 6, he advocated, “Love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” In Matthew 5, he expressed it this way: ‘Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun shine on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.”

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