From my "No Original Thoughts" File: ‘Guest thinker” Theologian Miroslav Volf
How Can We Give?
How can we give? Why use the word can? That implies that we might not be able to give. But we obviously are able, someone may argue. As long as humanity has existed, we’ve always given gifts, and we always will. So if something is so pervasive, why ask whether it’s possible? “You know that you should give; God has created you to give,” the reasoning might go. “You know how you should give; God the giver is your model. So just do it!” Yet as compelling as this pragmatic advice may be:
It’ just not that simple!
I am reminded of the words of the Apostle Paul who says: "But I need something more! I realize I don't have what it takes. I can will it, but I can't do it. I decide to do good (Give) , but I don't really do it.... My decisions, such as they are, don't result in actions”. (Rom 7:17-20)
It is because of our selfishness and arrogance, that every gift is already subverted, undone, and transposed however slightly into a non-gift, into an instrument of taking. Look carefully at even the most generous givers, and you’ll discover in them some of the features of illicit takers. Even as the very best givers, we are all sinners.
To understand how God counters the ill effects sin has on giving, we need to recognize that, God makes the very act of giving possible. If God didn’t give, we couldn’t give. There would be nothing to give and nobody to either give or receive. Without God, gift giving would be impossible.
The Basics of Giving.
Let’s look at the basics of giving. Somebody gives something to someone else. To have a gift, you’ve got to have at least two people and a tangible or intangible thing that is given from one to the other – say, a flower or a blessing. But that’s just a gift’s skeleton, not yet a whole gift. You’ll need muscles and organs for giving to actually happen.
One of the things a gift’s skeleton has to have to come alive is the willingness of givers to impart more to recipients than they expect to receive.
As rational beings, why would we ever want to give more than we expect to receive? When we give, we may end up with a raw deal. What we’ve truly given, we’ve potentially lost. It makes sense to give only if the world is set up in such a way that when we give – when we impart more than we expect to receive – we don’t lose, but in fact end up gaining. Such expectation seems unreasonable without God, which is why we need God to build a bridge from self-love to generosity.
It Takes God
It takes God to turn our gifts into seeds out of which a bountiful harvest will grow. “He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food,” wrote the apostle Paul, “will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness”. (2 Corinthians 9:10). We don’t give so that we might receive more back; we would then selfishly calculate with our “generosity”. But as we give for others’ benefit, we know that that very unselfish act will be for our gain.
We oscillate between calculating and holding back on the one hand, and abandoning all measure to give ourselves completely, on the other. In the first case, we are left with a gaping hole of un-fulfillment as we find ourselves basically alone in the world of self-centered calculations. In the second case, we risk an unbearable contradiction in our very identity, because that to which we have given ourselves completely can at any time be yanked away from us.
Untethered from God, self-giving love cannot stand on its own for long. If it excludes God, it will destroy us, for we will then deliver ourselves to the mercy of the finite, and therefore inherently unreliable, objects of our love. The only way to ensure that we will not lose our very selves if we give ourselves to others is if our love for the other passes first through God – or comes from God.
The Law of the Flow
If gift giving involves only givers and recipients, givers run a risk of coming up short and, in light of ineradicable human selfishness, mostly do come up short. Hardly any good deed then goes unpunished.
If, on the other hand, God is the third party in the relationship between givers and recipients, givers cannot lose. They always receive what they give, and more. That’s the “law” of the flow: Those who pass gifts on receive more abundantly from the source of all gifts.
From the Apostle Paul: “This most generous God who gives seed to the farmer that becomes bread for your meals is more than extravagant with you. He gives you something you can then give away, which grows into full-formed lives, robust in God, wealthy in every way, so that you can be generous in every way, producing with us great praise to God.” ( 2 Corinthians 9:10 – 11)
LORD, MAY I REMAIN IN THE FLOW