It says that natural is what belongs to nature by virtue of its constitution, its consequences, or its exigencies. Supernatural, on the other hand, is what does not belong to it. Grace is often put exclusively in supernatural realm.
However, Boff also notices that a change was emerged from twentieth century theologians. They come around to the view that, in concrete, nature is ever suffused with supernatural. This change is brought about by some reasons. Pastorally, the older concept of grace made a wider gap between real problem of society and the answers Christianity might provide. Another reason is that theological reflection began to explore some data of Christian tradition more thoroughly.
To mention some: “grace means being in relationship with God”, “the human being as spirit”, “love of God as natural desire of humans”. The results of this exploration suggest that when a natural reality is placed in relationship with God, the supernatural then surfaces. It is not a substantive creating some new reality alongside nature; instead it is an adjective qualifying one and the same reality. Moreover, spirit in humans is the whole human being not just a reality beside human body.
It is a mode of being in so far it is living transcendence, total openness, and all-around relationship. Humanity as spirit actually signifies a yearning for the infinite, a longing for God. Thus, their natural desire to love God is rooted in the very depths of their being.
This new concept is not without problem. It seems to lead to a view that grace, because it is established in the nature of human beings, is not gratuitous anymore, hence no longer grace at all. It is necessary not freely given. This problem has been answered as follows: it is God who had placed a kind of call or longing in human beings that they have desire and openness to love God and to hear God’s voice. All this is gratuitous because God is gratuitousness.
It also can be seen from the very structure of the natural human desire to love God. Human beings long for God who gives himself freely as a gift.
Boff sets his position in the same line with these theological thoughts (not without his unique elaborations). He argues that beyond all this theological discussion, in concrete history and day-to-day actions of human beings, we find nature is always suffused with grace. We can never say what is purely “natural” and what is purely “supernatural” in every single concrete experience. The experience of grace is always a mediated experience that comes through gestures, words, encounters, prayers, liturgical acts, and so on.
As Boff indicated, we might comprehend grace more closely in the light of incarnation and spirit. In incarnation, God, in Christ, was and is so closely united with the world he assumed. Thus, we can only know him or meet him if we are willing to accept that world first.
When we embrace the world, we know that we are also embracing God since the world mediates his presence to us. In the light of incarnation, we are told that the experience of grace is never pure grace but also the world and our experience of the world is never mere world but also grace. Grace comes to us in and through the realities of this world.
Meanwhile, the spirit has been working behind the movement of history and the world with which he is so closely associated. As a nameless force, an imperceptible vitality, and an invisible wind, the spirit arouses human beings to free activity; nourishes their creative imagination, helping them to move forward in history or to change its direction. We can experience grace if we allow ourselves to be overtaken by the presence of the spirit.
to be continued