Open Hands

I suppose I’d better post something. Two posts of largely non-original material–“Bob Ross” and “Footprints in the Sand“–continue to receive far and away the most hits on this blog, even on a day-to-day basis. I’m not sure what to do about that. Nothing, I suppose.

In the first half of Free of Charge: Giving and Forgiving in a Culture Stripped of Grace, which I have unfortunately not finished, Miroslav Volf writes about giving and how it relates to God. He describes God as pure giver, saying, “In relation to the world…God’s gifts only flow out” (37). He goes on to qualify the giving of God:

When God gives, it’s not a transfer of goods. We receive things from God not because God takes them from here (where God happens to be) and places them there (where we happen to be), but because God is present where we are and is continually giving to us all the things and abilities we have. To return something to God would be like pushing back to the giver the hand that gives (41).

I am, of course, just presenting a skeletal view of what Volf has to say in this section of the book. I found it particularly interesting in what he had to say with respect to faith. The distinction between faith and works has, in recent years, become less clear to me–at least as presented in the evangelical circles I grew up in. Faith is something one must “have” (or possibly “do”) in order to be saved. It is presented as almost a cognitive thing–an act of the intellect. So, I wonder, how is this different than a work?

Volf helps clarify this for me by putting faith in the context of a giving God:

Faith is not something we give to God. In that case, faith would be a work, and a silly kind of work because it would be work we do even though it doesn’t benefit anyone. But exactly the opposite is true. To have faith in God is to be “without works” before God (Romans 4:5). Faith is the way we as receivers relate appropriately to God as the giver. It is empty hands held open for God to fill. That is why, as Luther put it, faith “honors God”; it tells the truth about God and our relation to the divine Giver and ascribes to God what is due (43, emphasis mine).

Is holding my hands open to receive a work? If it is, it’s extremely passive (and borders on laziness!).

5 thoughts on “Open Hands

  1. Rick Wadholm Jr

    So how do we understand this “holding my hands open” in relation to the indwelling and empowering Holy Spirit? Also, in what manner is the open handed faith of Christ also our own faith as we are “in Christ”? These are some of the questions that often harass me as I contemplate the nature of “faith” and “works” and the relation of God to us and in us and through us and for us. Why does He have to make things so complicated??? 🙂

  2. Marc Post author

    Good questions, Rick. I’m not sure if Volf will answer any of those questions in this book, as it’s primarily about giving and forgiving. Faith is an “incidental” element to his main topic.

    That whole “faith of Christ” business fascinates me. I want to read Richard B. Hays’
    The Faith of Jesus Christ: The Narrative Substructure of Galatians 3:14:11 and some other material in that vein. (Alas…the perpetual problem of too many good things to read, too little time.)

    Incidentallly, I may need to pick your brain about N.T. Wright. I was asked to write an article about him (as I understand it, it’s to be a “Why Wright is Important to Read” kind of thing), though I can’t remember if I agreed or not (better check). I’ve read a number of his works, but I’m not sure I’m qualified to really comment on why he should be read–nor am I sure I have the time during the semester to read more of his stuff for such an article.

  3. Linea

    You quote from one of my favourite authors. I have been swamped in history this past week and now my aunt has passed away and this week will be hugely busy as well. The knowledge that I come before God with empty but open hands is one that gives me the confidence to simply rest in Christ, my hands very empty at this point, knowing that God can be depended on to give all I need in this situation too.

    Rick – Doesn’t the image of being a receiver of all things from God’s hand consistent with receiving the gift of God’s Holy Spirit, another gift that we cannot merit but one given so we can enter into the relationship with God that God himself desires for us? We do not possess the Holy Spirit because we have done anything on our part – except open our empty hands before God and allow God to fill them. And then our “works” flow back out to the world as we become God’s instruments for his purposes.

  4. Rick Wadholm Jr

    Linea,
    Part of the issue is in what sense has the “faith of Christ” (a rather difficult genitive construct) become our own faith and therefore his open hands…our open hands? In what sense has the Spirit already regenerated us that we might call upon the Lord for salvation (and in the Pentecostal tradition: following salvation to receive the “baptism in the Holy Spirit”)? In what sense was this opening of the hands already the work of the Spirit and actually accomplished for us in the perfect opening of the hands of our Lord Jesus?

  5. Linea

    Rick, This is a way, way late response. Seminary and life got in the way.

    In response to your last sentence – Is it not all a gift from God? We are. That alone is a gift – the gift of existence followed by the gift of the Spirit calling us to respond to God in faith. But what would we do with our longings for God if Christ had not made it possible through his life,death and resurrection for us to be reconciled with God?

    I like that picture ” the perfect opening of the hands of our Lord Jesus.”

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