In fact I remember the last trip out of country for me was to Africa in 2004. I was on a cell call to home from the back of a jeep as we charged along a Tanzanian dirt road, taping a herd of something antelope-like. On the other end, they could even hear the mechanical clanging that comes from potholes and ruts of the road over the sound of my voice. This was an interesting bookend to my very first trip out of country in 1992, also to Africa, when I made one pricey phone call in two weeks from a hotel in Nairobi.
But even with the technical wonders available to us, we can still feel isolated. Sometimes by choice, other times because it's not always easy to discern meaning from pixels on the screen. The real person within my proximity is company of some kind. The one occupying the screen or phone line as a voice, is imagined or remembered. But there is still something intimate about absence.
The letters and words next to each other are an interesting visual. Even each letter as we look up close is a combination of lines (sequenced pixels) and space. If we are to make meaning out of our words, we have to see both the presence and absence of those lines. And looking that closely, I realize even in the printed word, on screen, text on a phone, or on paper, there is more white space than "ink".
Lately I've been trying to remind myself that this is what grace is. Immature Christians like to think of grace as a hard set of boundaries that we have to practice writing over and over. Of course, this leads to many a slippery slopes. With that kind of Rigid Grace, what can you say about "Judgement", (capital "J") or Mercy, or even Love? Really anything that marks a thought as "Christian" or not hinges on grace.
The places far away from the pixels are important in discerning the boundaries. Sometimes we Christians are forced to ask ourselves and others, "what is God's Will in this case..." If you flip the view of grace to be more white space than finite lines, you are in what feels like very unsafe territory. Territory that is a place far away. And like those places far away in my past, I cannot easily, nor affordably, get back to the finite. God's Grace. Here, look at it this way:
G R A C E
Look at all the white space. The closer you get to it, you are farther away from the pixels, the lines or the ink that supposedly defines "grace". The older I get, the more comforting it is to me that God is in that space far away from what we have tried to define as "grace".
Because of the space, I should never put myself in the place of Judge, (capital "J"). That's God's place. Because of it, I should know when to be merciful. The answer, I think to that is, "always be merciful". Because of the space, I know that God has lots of flexibility as to how He might interpret our intents and actions. Especially since those things are only symptoms of our real illness, creation in rebellion with creator.
The deception is when I no longer am looking at the "page" with the word Grace written upon it. In other words, if everything is "white space", then anything goes. Without the Word, there is nothing to lean against, nothing to pursue but our own cravings. No word and the person has to ask, "farther away from what?" We, rebellious creation, begin scribbling indiscernibly on the page.
We are scribbling when we justify our ideas on the page before or after Grace.
One more step into the abstract and I'll publish and move on.
God's Will and the Importance of Grace.
So you want to know God's Will? Try to know your own will first. I mean, really KNOW it. What is it in you that is will in the first place? Is it intent? Is it actions? Not really, no. In death, to "will" is to grant. In marriage it is a promise that stands next to "I Do".
Do you take...? Next to Will you honor...? In Anglican baptism, "will you renounce satan...?" The Book of Common Prayer provides the script: "I will with God's help". To will is to grant. To will is to promise. At least in this shallow end of the Pool of Semantics.
If you end there, you might say, "I know Lou's will." Even though my will is my business. You might set me as an example and try to act according to my will (I wouldn't suggest that, for what it's worth). Maybe will is nothing without choice.
Maybe even God has a choice to grant according to his promises or not. Does not God promise to be trustworthy? Doesn't He, through Christ say, "follow me"? Is not God the only being with the responsibility and rights to judge the hearts and minds of all people? In so doing He grants eternity of some kind, like it or not. Maybe, if I want to know God's will, I should look at His gifts and promises. Some fulfilled, some outstanding.
God's will, His business after all, is I think knowable. He has a will of Justice. And a will of compassion and mercy and so on. They are marvelously synchronous, not at all contradictory, but it is disconcerting to we who think we have to understand everything before we'll act, whether our relatively insignificant events are caused by God's choice to act on which part of His will... We all choose to act on our wills or against them. The chief difference, I'm convinced, is that God can be trusted to always act according to His.