One of my favorite theologians is Miroslav Volf, an Episcopalian who teaches at Yale Divinity School. Born in Croatia, where his father was a pacifist and a Pentecostal minister, he witnessed both ethnic and religious violence as the former communist Yugoslavia split apart. Yet he knows well the goodness and the generosity of the God who created us all. In an interview about his book Free of Charge: Giving and Forgiving in a Culture Stripped of Grace, Volf said:
[O]ur gift is a seed that God multiplies for recipients as well as for givers. Notice an important contrast: When you and I exchange equivalents — say, when we barter — you get no more and no less than what has parted from me. It’s different with gifts. When I give you a gift, you receive more than the stuff that has left my hands, partly because you receive not just my gift but also my generosity. Gifts are not simply the ‘stuff’ that travels from one person to the other. Gifts are seeds that God makes grow, sometimes into a bountiful harvest. So I can give in hope . . .
Giving is a fundamental mode of human existence. When we identify it as such and nurture it, then we’ll be able to be givers in all spheres of life. And let’s not forget churches as schools of giving. I think that’s an important role of churches, institutions established to celebrate and encourage the passing on of God’s gifts of redemption and creation — including material wealth — to humanity.
If we’re honest with ourselves, what we imagine to be our giving is too often really bartering that is masquerading as generosity. That allows us to hold onto as much as possible. But it also denies us the joy and wonder of discovering a different kind of security in the God who is truly generous to all of us. For that grace, we give thanks.