Law and Grace: What a Snowstorm Can Teach Us About Opposing Life Principles

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The “Snow-megeddon” (all 3 horrible inches of it!) that was unleashed on the Atlanta area, and throughout the South, provoked varied responses that illumine the contrasts between opposite life principles:  Law and Grace.  These principles differ chiefly in how they govern our relationship to who or what we believe to be in control of the circumstances under which we live – what I will refer to simply as “the Power.”

Principle of Law –

This principle holds that the Power works on our behalf in response to some merit that originates in us.  It yields an attitude of entitlement that is proportional to the degree of our own self-regard:  the better (more worthy) we consider ourselves to be, the more we expect the Power to deliver protection from pain and suffering, inconvenience, and discomfort.  In order to deliver these services, the Power must exercise control on the basis of certain knowledge of future events, thus eliminating all risk and uncertainty from the circumstances surrounding us.  When the Power fails to fulfill these expectations, which it often does, we (so long as we still maintain high self-regard) blame the Power (or its many proxies, i.e. people in positions of authority) with rage, believing in our hearts that the Power’s sudden incompetence is, at best, a symptom of indifference to our plight and, at worst, an indicator of malicious intent to ruin us.

The principle of law is a quid pro quo system, operating on an individual and/or collective sense of owing and being owed.  The higher our self-esteem, the stronger our sense of being owed. Thus, when the Power fails to work on our behalf, we demand change: either in the rules of the game, or for a new Power to take its place.  When this principle of law takes hold in a self-centered, consumerist culture, personal responsibility is shifted from the individual and completely onto the Power.

IN THE SNOW: This principle is at work in all the blame being hurled at authorities (and from authorities to other authorities –  Georgia’s governor just blamed the National Weather Service for “under-predicting”).  “They” should have known better, warned us earlier, told us all a week ago to plan to stay home today.  “They” don’t care about the people, just about themselves.  Heads will fall for this!  These people should be fired!  Eventually, you will see this lead to irrational decisions to close schools whenever there is a hint of snow or ice, and to invest large sums of public money on snow equipment that will seldom be used.

Principle of Grace –

This principle holds that the Power works on our behalf out of some stable trait or characteristic that lies in the very nature of the Power itself.  It solicits trust in the Power to protect and provide due to its benevolent intentions and kind disposition toward us, not because of what the Power owes based on our own merit.  It yields an attitude of thankfulness that deepens in inverse proportion to our self-regard (the humbler we are, the more grateful we are).  Thus, the experience of being shielded from pain, suffering, and discomfort is received as a gift, not demanded as a reward or wages.  When the Power does not manage circumstances as we wish, grace teaches us to rest in confidence in the Power’s intentions to do us good, humbly recognizing that good often happens to us in unexpected ways.  Thus, risk and uncertainty are understood as part of life, and embraced as portals through which the Power can do wonderful things for us and in us, things that we did not expect and that are better than what we would ever have asked for or imagined.  Adverse circumstances then are seized as opportunities for change, especially in how we use our own small power, from employing it for our own narrow interest to using it for our neighbor’s good.

IN THE SNOW: This principle is at work first and foremost in the joy of children in the snow:  laughter in a snowball fight, screams as sleds (usually cardboard or cookie sheets in the South!) glide down the hill, smiles for pictures next to the snowman. I saw this even in my 17-18 year old students: they couldn’t wait to revel in the gift of the snow.   It is at work in the kindness of neighbors, turning strangers into friends, as we have heard numerous tails of ordinary people feeding, sheltering, comforting, and transporting “snow refugees.”

We feel it in the refuge of a warm house and the unexpected rest from work.  A snow day reminds us that we do not have to work constantly to survive in this world.  That while work is necessary to produce what we need to live, the sum of what we have is far greater than the accumulation of the fruits of our labor:  our livelihood depends far more on the Power than it does on our striving.  I feel it right now as I write leisurely in the comfort of my bedroom.  While I love to work and embrace the responsibility to provide through my labor, I also recognize that it does not ultimately depend on me and that the Power gives far more than our work can produce.

This grace is perhaps ultimately displayed in the snow, though, through its purity.  Its blinding whiteness reminds us of the promise of the Power that “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be white as snow” (Isaiah 1:18).  This purification of the soul comes through the scarlet blood of a perfect sacrifice:

Oh! precious is the flow
That makes me white as snow;
No other fount I know,
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

(Don’t forget to read the Intro post to this, if you missed it!)

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