As we anticipate making out our regular giving to God in November, too often there is an air of hurried, guilty distaste surrounding the task. “Here are those cards once again!” We don’t mind giving, but must it be so often? We almost begrudge the church its need. But in doing so we are liable to overlook our own need.
In the heart of us all there is a stubborn kernel of covetousness. The whole point of giving to God is that our giving itself becomes a sacramental path for grace to enter our hearts, softening and finally consuming that kernel. Joy Davidman, in “Smoke of the Mountain”, beautifully describes the process.
“Not until Christ came were we shown the real alternative to covetousness, in that charity which not only loves to give but also takes with love. And not until Paul taught us did we understand how a man may appeal to the Grace for help against the covetousness in his own heart.
Christianity is everywhere paradoxical, everywhere too difficult for simple black-and-white thinking; but nowhere more so that in its doctrine of worldly goods. For they are good things—and yet we must not long for them. They are to be enjoyed—and yet we must not make that enjoyment our goal.
They are God’s plenty; in the form of bread and wine, they are the very symbols of that act of God which makes and keeps us man; they devote our lives to getting them. If we have them, the best possible thing we can do is to give them away; if we don’t have them, we may expect to get them, but we mustn’t worry about it! The Savior who bestows miraculous loaves and fishes upon the multitude is the same who proclaims that man does not live by bread alone, and he who teach us to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread,” also warns us, “Take no thought, saying, “What shall we eat?” It seems almost that we are told not to desire what, by our very natures, we cannot live without.
The paradox is easier once we remember that the text runs, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God”—once we remember the distinction between the ends and the means. Seeing God face to face is our goal; the pleasures of life, and even life itself, are the means to it. Therefore the milk and honey and corn and wine and soft chairs and fine houses and swift automobiles—all those pleasant things—exist primarily as a kind of currency of love; a means whereby we can exchange love with one another and thus become capable of the love of God.
In Charity, we value such things not only for their pleasantness, but also because we can give them away and give our love with them; or else because, in receiving them we receive other’s love for us as a baby at the breast sucks his mother’s love with her milk.
Nowadays we usually praise the power to give, which implies worldly success, far beyond the power to take, and we are sometime ashamed of “receiving charity.” Yet Christ and the apostles were not. Though it be more blessed to give than to receive, to be fully Christian one must know how to do both with the same humility and the same joy.”
After all, God’s love has given us this creation and the freedom of choice. The Father’s love has given his only Son to die for us and our salvation. The Son’s love has given us the way of life, forgiveness of sin and the promise to be with him forever. The Holy Spirit’s love gives us strength and wisdom. Are we willing to accept these gifts of love in humility? Are we willing to give back in joy and love?