Of Grace And Dung Heaps

In a letter written some 20 years ago to a group of our close college friends, Bill Swart (Now Dr. Bill Swart of Augustana College, South Dakota) eloquently and profoundly describes the paradox of the Christian life.

“It was the evening of February 3 and I had spent the past 36 hours or so traveling from Milwaukee to Colorado via Orange City. There were five others, both old and new Northwestern College friends, who traveled with me for a weekend of skiing and camping in Rocky Mountain National Park. On this particular evening I found myself standing in the moonlight in a deep valley surrounded by the high peaks of the national mountain range. We knelt, we prayed, we were passionate, and there was power – a power that I seldom feel while embedded in the mundane. Power. Violence. Passion. Whatever you want to call it, I felt it.

And then, no less than two minutes later I found myself expounding on the elk shit we had all knelt in.

Passion – and what a paradox I am to it. At that very moment I again became painfully aware of my true nature as a fallen, yet Christian man. What a commentary on my life – even my passionate moments, albeit few and far between, are lived from the dung heap. And yet it is paradox that comes to my rescue. For while by nature I am repulsive to God, He has chosen to see me as His righteousness. It haunts me yet. May grace like this haunt me the rest of my life.”

You’ve likely never knelt in elk scat. But I bet Bill’s words resonate with you, as they do me. We’ve all been there. Passionate worship on a Sunday morning and before you can get out of the church parking lot you’re yelling at your kids for fighting in the backseat…and the paradox is clear. You finish a moving time of conversation and reflection with God at 8 AM and by 10 AM the wheels have fallen off your day and the paradox is clear. You thank God for an answer to prayer and before the breath of relief leaves your lungs you get an email from a friend saying the cancer has spread. Anger and doubt roll in like a tidal wave, burying your faith and confidence in God.

And the paradox is clear.

A danger for any of us who desire to take God and our relationship with Him seriously is to believe success depends on us. We read in the Bible that we are to “love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength”. Indeed, God desires us to love Him with all of our being. He loves our passion. Yet this side of heaven we, as Bill so wonderfully penned, give our mightiest efforts as from the dung heap.

It is true that the paradox that frustrates us is the same paradox that rescues us. Grace finds us in the dung heap. We love God and others with all our imperfect heart, yet it’s God’s grace in our imperfections that accomplish His purposes. We love God with all our doubt-ridden, hurting soul, yet it’s God’s spirit living in us that gives meaning to our lives. We love God with all our feeble short-sighted mind, yet it is God’s grace and the mind of Christ that prevail for our good and His glory. We love God with all our puny strength, yet it’s God’s mighty hand that lifts us up and sets our feet on higher ground.

The paradox is clear. Our most passionate moments are lived from the dung heap. Yet God’s grace finds us, and transforms us, as we kneel there. It is grace to our rescue. Because God has chosen to see us as His righteousness.

“Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.”

– Romans 5:1-2

Todd A. Thompson – April 23, 2009

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