By Israel Drazin
Philosophers and thinkers generally reject many religious concepts. There is no religious concept more anathema to them than grace. Grace is commonly understood as God’s free unearned love given generously by a loving deity. It is unearned for there is nothing that people can do to merit God’s loving gifts. It cannot be achieved by good deeds or even by prayers.
The concepts of grace and faith were invented by Paul. Neither exists in the Hebrew Bible. In the beginning of the Common Era when some Jews began to believe that Jesus was the expected messiah, these Jews – for those who were later called Christians were Jews at that time – felt they should try to proselytize and convert pagans to Judaism. The problem they faced was that Judaism is act-oriented: Jews are considered good if they act properly, and there were many laws about acts, such as keeping the kosher dietary rules and circumcision for men. Many pagans found the Jewish monotheistic concepts reasonable but balked at a restricted diet and the pain of circumcision. Paul’s solution was to remove the need for converts – later all Christians – to observe these rules. He taught that God does not require acts just belief, faith, and the acceptance of the idea (grace) that God grants kindness and love without humans needing to act; if fact, no human act is sufficient to cause divine love.
Paul used the concept of grace 144 times in his letters, while grace only appears 13 times in the later four Gospels.
Some theologians say that grace is mentioned in the Hebrew Bible, but this is not so. They point to Genesis 6:8 which states: “Noah found favor in God’s eyes” and argue that God granted Noah help (grace) even though he did not deserve it. This is clearly untrue. Verse 9 explicitly states Noah was “a man righteous and whole-hearted; Noah walked with God.” The bible says God helped Noah because of his good deeds.
The Hebrew Bible as well as many philosophers felt, as Aristotle wrote, that the basic difference between humans and all else is that humans have the capacity to think. Thinking is what makes people human and humans have a duty to use their thoughts to improve themselves and society. People should not be like flowers hoping that someone will shower water upon them, like divine grace, so they can survive. Human life should be active, not passive.