I’ve had the opportunity to visit some unique pockets of the world. I live minutes away from the most biologically diverse salamander population in the United States. I’ve walked through the semi-arid state of Tamil Nadu, India, wandering through a field now lined with coconut trees for as far as the eye can see. One of the most awe-inspiring moments of my life came as I was standing on a bridge at the foot of the Alps in Aosta, Italy, overlooking a stream. I remember taking a video because the pictures I took on my phone didn’t adequately capture the scenery. I was floored that God would create something so ornate. It isn’t that I thought it was outside His power, or that I thought He couldn’t do it. It just felt excessive. I remember thinking, “God is awesome.”
Even as I watch the video again every so often, I think, “God doesn’t need the clouds to line the peaks of the Alps. God doesn’t need the sky to flurry into swirls of pink and blue and purple as the sun’s rays refract through the atmosphere. God doesn’t need any of this.” That’s when I feel the weight of what I’m watching. I see the clouds mix with the glare of the lens, and I see the stream’s water sloshing. I see the way the mountaintops are capped with snow and how the edges of the boulders caught in the stream have been flattened. All is grace.
The things I have described so far (along with everything else in creation) point towards a Scriptural locus—Genesis 3. In case you aren’t familiar or can’t remember, Genesis 3 describes two events in cosmic history: the Fall of Man and the curse. I think the curse is precisely where all of this is pointing.
Look at what God says as He explains the curse:
To Eve, He says, “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you” (Genesis 3:16)
To Adam, He says, “…cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:17-19)
Normally, we would use these verses to justify why bad things happen. We try to make sense of brokenness by tracing history to a time when pain didn’t exist. And while this is a great and true use of the text—both exegetically proper and theologically correct—I think somewhere in our haste to see what the curse says about us, we miss what it says about grace.
The curse pronounces us dead. But God didn’t kill us! Instead, we are given an entire world to live in. Granted, we reside in a cursed version of it, but praise God we were still allowed to live—and even temporally enjoy living! God didn’t have to make beautiful things after the Fall. Instead, any form of beauty after our exile from Eden is a mark of God’s graciousness and excellence. Even the cursed parts of God’s creation humble us, and we have the privilege of feeling pleasure, even if it’s for the wrong reasons.
Theologians call this common grace. God gives pleasant things to people even when they are at enmity with Him. This is why atheists can still enjoy the sweetness of fruit even if they don’t believe in the God that commanded its tree to bear fruit abundantly. This is why you don’t have to be saved to think that breakfast for dinner is a good idea. Even our living, in and of itself, is an act of grace by God. My friend Ash once put it bluntly: “If you don’t die tonight, it’s due to God’s grace.” God had every right to wipe out all of the sinners in the world (which would be every single one of us) there in Eden, but instead He had grace. He reserved the right to make all of us serve our sentence for eternity since we were “brought forth in iniquity” and our mothers conceived us “in sin” (Psalm 51:5), at odds with an infinitely holy God. We were sinners out of the gate. Thankfully, God in His grace had something bigger in mind: redemption.
If we skip straight to what God said to Adam and Eve, we pass over what He said to the serpent. God makes a promise in Genesis 3 known as the protoevangelium, or the “first gospel.” Here, God promises an intercessor. This isn’t just an intercessor; this is the Intercessor, once and for all. God says to the serpent, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (Genesis 3:15). Though the serpent will slight humankind, the Intercessor will deliver a fatal blow to the serpent’s head. And if somehow you missed it, He already has.
Two thousand and some odd years ago, Jesus Christ the God-man, born of a virgin, did nothing wrong and did everything right so that when He carried the cross to Golgotha, the sins of His sheep would be replaced with His righteousness. Christ came to make His blessings flow, “far as the curse is found.” Christ came so our bent and broken world might be gradually unbent and pieced back together again. Christ came to absorb the wrath of God being poured out against our sin, the propitiation for His people. Christ came to live and die as an expression of God’s grace, first demonstrated in Eden’s promised Intercessor. At the cross, all is grace. Eternity hinges on the gospel of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. Everything allowed life before it was grace and everything reflecting upon it afterwards is grace. At the cross, the future hope of a Messiah became the future hope of a renewed home, a place exempt from the curse.
From the heights of Valle d’Aosta in Italy to the torments of the valley of the shadow of death, all is grace. In abundance and in suffering, all is grace. The things of earth are in the process of being refined, made new, slowly unveiling recollections of Eden. And even from eternity’s perfection, we will proclaim, bowing before the throne, exulting the King, “All is grace; all is grace.”
Cody Glen Barnhart
Cody Glen Barnhart (@codygbarnhart) lives in Kansas City, Missouri, and is a student at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He has written for the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, Canon & Culture, Gospel Centered Discipleship, and is a contributor at servantsofgrace.org.