Miroslav Volf puts two chapters back to back. At first one might not attend to the differences and think the chapters repeat.
Chapter 2 – How Should We Give?
Chapter 3 – How Can We Give?
Both fabulous and necessary questions. “Should” invokes a sense of duty or expectations. “Can” denotes a focus upon the abilities or capacities. At the time of this writing I am finishing up the reading of Chapter 3. A full post on that chapter will come soon. I wanted to have the contrast of the two foci before commenting. I am glad I did.
Most of my life I have been driven by a sense of duty and obligation. Only recently I have begun to see a deeper way of operating beyond the “should” and into a relationship based interaction with the world. The enlightening of these new ways has been slow coming like an awaited sunrise, and no less surprising or miraculous.
This chapter on the “should” question of giving starts with a captivating retelling of two brothers who brought gifts to the king. One brother, a poor farmer, wanted to honor his king. He had an odd crop of one huge turnip. He hauled it in the cart to the king. As they conversed the king was touched by the poor man’s generosity in this midst of dire circumstances. Out of pity the king gave him plenty of gold, land, fields, and flocks. The wealthy brother hears of his sibling’s good fortune at the offering of a single turnip and thus decides to take the king a present of gold and horses, hoping for a larger gift than his brother received. The king took the present “saying that he could give him in return nothing rarer or better than the huge turnip. So the rich brother had to put his brother’s turnip into a cart and have it taken home.”
The story serves as an introduction to the reasons why many of us give. Some of our motives come from a pure place, others have ulterior motives of selfishness and greed.
He then quotes Natalie Davies and further elaborates on her observations.
” [she] distinguishes between three basic modes in which we relate to one another: the coercive mode, the sales mode, and the gift mode. … In the coercive mode, we take illicitly. In the exchange mode, we acquire legitimately. In the gift mode, we give generously.”
By a look at some bible passages from Romans and Ephesians we see God’s intentions in regards to giving.
“Pull apart the idea of being the channel of God’s gifts, and you’ll see that it involves three intentions on God’s part. One concerns us, the givers. Another concerns the gifts themselves. And the third concerns the recipients: our neighbors.”
He gives much detailed explanation as he elaborates on the generosity of God in our lives. That this pouring out of blessings is divine and incomparable. And it should compel us to be the channel through which God gives to others.
God gives to us –> we give to others
“When do we rightly give? In one of three primary situations. We give when we delight in someone. … We also give when others are in need. … Finally, we give to help others give.”
This portion was especially helpful for me. To understand that we needn’t muster up a gift to fulfill the requirements of serving God liberated me to be aware of the goodness He has already placed in my life. Then I have the freedom to channel that goodness into the lives of others based on those three pure motives.
This quote he shared by Luther in The Freedom of the Christian spurred a potent facebook status:
“God’s goodness is dishonored if we want to merit its benefits.”
I said on facebook:
Someone says, “I want to give you this vehicle because it will be perfect for your family.” You tell them you can’t accept such an extravagant gift. They finally convince you to take it. You tell them only if they will let you give them the one hundred dollar bill you have in your wallet.
Ludicrous, right? Insulting, right?
Yet this is what we do when we tell God that we will do good works to deserve His gracious gifts. We are incapable of paying Him back. Accept His goodness, then out of gratitude go and be good to others without expecting anything in return.
I may or may not have been thinking about the recent theft of our truck and how nice it would be if someone were to give us a truck. Then my thoughts started to veer down the road of what we deserve. Does not our lump sum of good works merit a life packed full of blessings and free of such hardships? I could see the direction I was headed. It was not pretty. So instead of crashing my own pity party I pulled on the emergency break and did a U-turn. I changed the question to: Has not God poured out piles and piles of goodness on us even though we DID NOT merit it in the least? He has. He continues to. Therefore, instead of considering the dark behavior of becoming a stingy, selfish, hoarder I can freely open my heart towards others and give to them generously NOT based on their merits, but based on God’s goodness to me.