I have been asked to engage a brief, four-part series on the subject of Common Grace. This concept, which is present in every Christian tradition to lesser or greater degrees, is especially prominent in Reformed theology.
Today we will look at some of the Insights that God has given to all humanity as a blessing. These insights serve a variety of purposes, but they serve the same purpose for all people regardless of their status as Christians or non-Christians. Most of these insights come from God’s general revelation in nature, and result in the flourishing of human life.
All truth is God’s truth, since God is truth. Carl Trueman, historian and professor at Westminster Theological Seminary, often remarks that there is no golden age in the Church. When asked what his favorite era is, he comments that the one he is living in is pretty good. The reason is, at least in part, antibiotics. We often take for granted that when we have an infection, we can take antibiotics to resolve it. When we have a headache, we simply take an over the counter pain medication.
Beyond actual medicine that we take, the very discipline of medicine is a blessing from God. Although it is absolutely not the case that all doctors are Christians, and there are compelling reasons to believe that the rise of science is a result of (or at the very least, dependent on) the Christian worldview, it is true that even Christian doctors are not studying Scripture in order to learn how to treat medical conditions. Doctors study the natural world to obtain that information. Because of this study, we are able to perform surgery, treat illnesses, and delay death (not all delay of death is a good thing). We are able to do these things because God has, in his providence and wisdom, revealed through nature how.
In a related way, the study of the natural world has yielded technological advancements that serve to, when used properly, better the life of humans on earth. These advancements range from things as seemingly simple as paper and writing (without which we would not have Scripture), to things as mind bogglingly advanced as the technology used to power the internet.
We are able to not only develop computer systems, but we can launch them into space to power GPS systems, telephones, television, and a whole host of other devices.
Like medicine above, these insights have been given to humanity and are a blessing irrespective of a person’s status as a member of God’s people, or as a member of God’s enemies. Like all created things, God’s enemies twist his blessings and they become curses. However, that does not change the fact that these things are indeed blessings.
Art and Literature
Some of the most beautiful works of art have been created by those who are not Christians. Although, as I hinted at when discussing medicine, the very concept of beauty presupposes an objective standard, acknowledgement of that standard does not seem to be a requirement in order to produce beautiful works. Both Christians and non-Christians can not only produce beautiful art, but can enjoy it. We are both given the same faculty to look at a painting, and in many cases the same ranges of emotions which are elicited by that painting. While it is true that the Christian can ultimately enjoy a fine sculpture more, because they can turn their attention from the creation to the Creator, that does not draw away from the fact that a non-Christian can legitimately and rightfully enjoy the creation.
Literature (for the sake of the discussion, I would include film and other performance arts) follows the same pattern. Many of the greatest works of literature come from non-Christians, and I shudder to think how bland our world would be without some of these amazing works. Even something as seemingly simple as a fun television show, or a great action movie, are ultimately the result of this common grace blessing.
Although it is the case in many instances that laws, at least in the West, are based in part or in whole on the Old Testament moral laws, the fact remains that even in cultures where that influence cannot be demonstrated most laws reflect the inherent moral code which God has written on the hearts of all humans. This innate moral compass, as corrupted as it is, restrains sin and prevents all of us from being as evil as we could. Parents innately understand that it is wrong to neglect their children. Husbands not only know but genuinely feel the weight and commitment of marriage, which restrains them from committing adultery.
While it is true that this grace only goes so far and is ultimately overcome by those with Adam’s corrupt nature, the fact is that even without direct government intervention humans are not nearly as sinful as they could be. In most cases, people live in relative peace with each other according to this moral law, which God has blessed all humanity to innately understand.