Grace and the Venn Diagram
By |   December 11, 2013 |   in Advent |   1 Comment

I substitute-taught a class the other week called “Discovering your Design.” The course uses personality assessments to help people uncover what they were created to do. This class in particular, on “values,” included a Venn diagram illustrating how our ideal values only partly match up with the way we actually live our lives. The page in my teacher’s handbook showed two circles overlapping in a small oblong area in the middle. The first circle was our current reality; the second circle was a future ideal. I told the students that their goal was to push these two circles together until they were a single circle drawn around twice.

I struggled with how to introduce the gospel into this lesson. The more I talked, the more I felt like I was saying, “If you just push hard enough, you can make your ideal your reality!” Which, of course, is impossible. I felt the hardness of what I was putting on the students and so I added something like, “Go to God and ask for grace to enter this picture.”

It wasn’t until today that I gained a new perspective on the diagram. I was reading N.T. Wright’s study on the book of Acts, and I began to see that the two circles might also be a picture of heaven and earth. Wright describes two different dimensions moving towards one another to become one, similar to what I had described in the lesson. But then he introduces another element:

The risen body of Jesus is the first, and so far the only, object which is fully at home in both spheres, anticipating the time when everything will be renewed and joined together. Jesus has gone into God’s dimension of reality; but he will be back on the day when that dimension and our present one are brought together once and for all. That promise hangs in the air over the whole of Christian history from that day to this. This is what we mean by the second coming.

N.T. Wright, Acts, p.13

Wright shows that my weak addendum of, “Oh, yeah, and grace is involved somehow” is a gross understatement. The Venn diagram makes no sense at all unless we understand the real overlap between the two circles: Jesus Christ himself. He alone is the great reconciler between the two, the intercessor without whom heaven and earth would never meet. I’ve thought of Advent before as a season of waiting, but it occurs to me that it’s really a season of coming.

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I will probably be married by the time this article goes live, and engagement has felt a bit like Advent. The promise has been made; now we wait around for the wedding to come. My fiancé and I have been talking about our hopes for the future: our first apartment; the kids we might have; our longing for restoration with certain family members. I imagine taking the messy parts of my life, the broken pieces of my current reality, and filling an “earth” circle in my mind. Then I imagine taking my hopes for the future and my longings for redemption, and placing them in a “heaven” circle. What would it look like for me to let Christ live in both places? To trust that only he can bring them together? Because that’s what he came to do. That’s what he is coming to do.

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Acree Graham:
acreegraham   Acree Graham is a writer living in Atlanta, Georgia. She works for start-ups and design firms, volunteers with Modern Atlanta and worships at City Church Eastside, where she does her best to teach kindergarteners about Christ.
  • Dave McG

    I think your two original circles are an accurate model of where all of us are. I’m thinking adding a third circle representing Christ makes sense. Everything in Christ’s circle is good. As we invite and accept more of Christ into our lives his circle moves over the intersection of the others. There are always areas of our lives that are good, areas we strive for, areas we need to lose, and areas where Christ is leading us. We mature spiritually as the three circles merge into one.