Rivers of Prevenient Grace
February 8, 2017 § Leave a comment
This was as sermonette I preached this morning at Chapel at Trinity College at the University of Toronto. The scripture text in reference is Genesis 2:4b-17 which you can find here.
Also, I would like to share with you a link to Fleming Rutledge’s book I referenced within. Well, more like the front page of her website which is filled with its well-deserved accolades!
May only Truth be Spoken and only Truth Received. Amen.
I would like to do a very quick recap of this morning’s Old Testament reading.
In the day the Lord created the earth, there was nothing on it, not a tree for shade or a herb for flavour. God had caused no rain, but a mist came up from the earth and watered the ground. Then, God created man and breathed life into him. Then, God planted a garden and caused trees for shade and herbs to flavour all of its food. In the midst of the garden there was the tree of Knowledge.
Then we have a little aside, a geography lesson, a river from out of Eden, flowed into the Garden of Eden, it separated in four and flowed out of it, to what the ancient authors of Genesis would have considered the whole of creation.
Then we go back, the Lord took man and placed him in the Garden, and told him not to eat of the tree of knowledge… and we all know how that ends up.
The lectionary for this morning asked us to skip the little geography lesson, but while reading and meditating on this scripture it was the bit that jumped out at me because it seems to make very little contextual sense. Prior to it, we have a creation narrative speaking of a world without rain, one which we know simply could not exist, then we are presented with four identified rivers two of which we can still go swimming in. And then back to the creation narrative… if my Old Testament has taught me anything, it is that these oddities are not here by accident.
What then might be going on here?
Well, the author has made two things very clear. First, man was created before the garden, and it is actually stated twice that God placed him into the garden after it was planted. Second, the river is coming to the garden from outside of Eden. So both man and the river are founded outside of the garden before their entering.
From here the river, after watering the garden, divides and goes forth to water the rest of the world. The world is nourished with water that has passed through paradise, the place where God walked with Eve and Adam. The world is nourished with water that has passed through the most Hallowed of Holy ground.
But, it is, indeed, the case that the water leaves the garden. And we find it also that Adam and Eve leave the garden… and in much the same fashion… the river entered the garden as one and left as four. Man entered as one and left as two.
And yet, we have not read about to Adam and Eve’s departure from the garden yet.
Am I trying to say that we actually find in the Word of God a prediction that humanity will fall from grace and we really had no shot from the beginning?
What I think what is going on here is a concept that Fleming Rutledge is trying to recover is her latest book The Crucifixion of -Prevenience-. I Quote, “We need to recover the word prevenient because no other word or phrase captures so well the essential fact about Grace: it prevenes (goes before), or precedes, recognition of sin…”(p168) later she goes further and says “at the risk of over simplifying, for Paul the sequence is not sin-repentance-grace-forgiveness, but grace-sin-deliverance-repentance-grace. Grace drives the sequence from first to last.”(p192)
So what does this have to do with our rivers? The rivers, though having left paradise, are still the fundamental nourishment for the whole world. God does not leave God’s creations which He as deemed very good be over taken over by the power of sin and death. These rivers are nourishing the world. Without them, the world would be parched and be of no use. They are not tainted. They are outside of the garden and yet still redeemed. They are a symbol of God’s prevenient Grace.
If we say that God’s Grace is infinite, then it has no beginning or no end… whereas, creation, has a beginning, and it has a culmination… it would only make sense that we would find evidence in our Holy Scriptures of Grace preceding our sin by the simple fact that it came before. “grace-sin-deliverance-repentance-grace.”