If the grace we are seeing, experiencing and giving is less than absolutely mind blowingly amazing and beyond reason, then it isn’t grace. It’s something else that we came up with. It’s something that we can put our finger on and explain. It’s something less than what God gives us.
Let me backtrack.
Someone sins against you, hurts you deeply, where you can’t even think straight. You want to either choke their last breath from their lungs or run into a speeding truck. You can’t decide which will make them feel worse and you better.
And somewhere, some day after that, someone tells you to forgive them. Or maybe you tell yourself because you know that’s what needs to happen. You have to move on, you have to make it right, you have to be, in a word, Jesus. And there are two little beings, an angel and a demon if you will, sitting by your ear. One is saying of course you forgive them. You recognize your own need of forgiveness and because you have been forgiven much, you must also forgive. Or God won’t forgive you, right? And the little demon cackles and says screw that mess! They deserve to be brought to justice. What they did was horrendous and they need to face their consequences. Sure you’re a sinner, but look at them. If they weren’t so lame, you wouldn’t be so bitter or hurt and you would be so much happier if they just came to you and grovelled. But nooooo. They just carry on like nothing happened and throw God’s grace in your face like it’s magic pixie dust.
“More forbearance than is comfortable and more forgiveness than is reasonable, is the way of the gospel.” Scotty Smith, Pastor, Christ Community, Franklin TN
So it is, kinda, like pixie dust.
What we have a problem with is this seemingly trumped up system of justice. I mean what kind of world would we live in if someone commits a crime, the trial clearly convicts the person with all evidence pointing undeniably to the perpetrator, the verdict is read and then the judge stands up and says, ok you’re guilty. If you know you’re guilty and deserve punishment and can never repay all the pain and upheaval you’ve cause, you can go home. That sounds scary right? All these criminals running around freely – dirty rotten scoundrels with free reign over our communities and lives. This sounds like a terrible system.
On the face of it, grace appears that simple. To many of my agnostic and atheist friends, the basis of Christianity is that ridiculous sounding and infuriating. I get that. We get livid when someone like a Ted Bundy makes a last minute confession and plea and claims the love of Jesus right before he dies and gets to be in heaven. What? Are you for real, God? Why do I love you again? What’s the point of all that? Does it really not matter what he did for so many years – the absolute horror of the person he was – and I’m supposed to just say ok, cool, the grace of God is sweet?
But those of us who have wrestled through the doctrines and tried to make sense of a theology that tells us no matter what is done, if a person truly repents and believes in the work of Jesus dying and paying for it all, well we know it is anything but simple. We know that it is monstrous and epic and beyond comprehension. We know that what we do know and understand about it only scratches the surface of what is going on. We know that underneath it all, what we’re really afraid of is that no one is going to pay what they deserve to pay – or conversely, that everyone is.
As somewhat of a sidebar, I’ve been thinking a lot about names lately for some reason. And no offense to anyone with what I’m about to say, but it’s just something I realized. There are a lot of kids running around with the name “Grace” in there – either a first or middle name. And that’s cool. I get it. It’s nice sounding and sweet and incredibly packed with truth and beauty. I just can’t do it though. I throw the word Grace around a lot, and it hits me that I don’t have the profound impact on my heart… EVERY SINGLE TIME. Yes every time it should be like unleashing a ten ton brick from my mouth. GRACE. It should be accompanied by trumpets and a little ray of sunshine.
But it isn’t and grace becomes this manageable thing that we get to hold in our hands. Like a sponge that wipes off a dinner plate, we relegate grace to something that we have to keep using and maybe even feel like we need to replace – we need to go back to the well and draw again and again our daily supply of grace so that we get through the day.
I tell you this: one drop is an ocean. If you truly are touched by the Grace that I know, you cannot run dry. You will not run out of your supply. And by extension you will always have grace to give to others. It will be impossible for you to withhold it from any one – no matter how deep the wound, no matter how close the betrayal, no matter how dark the day.
We have a kinda crappy dishwasher. (Sorry to our landlord and dear friend, Bryon. But yeah, it’s on its last legs.) We have discovered that we needed to stop the cycle early on while it’s drying so that food particles aren’t sticking to the glasses and then caking on in the heat. At first we ended up having to wash stuff before washing stuff and then sometimes washing stuff again after washing the stuff. It’s time consuming and makes you want to use only paper dishes and cups.
Some of us treat our sin like this. We have to keep washing stuff. It’s old school. Actually old testament. We want to make amends somehow – to make ourselves feel better for what we did, or to try to erase the consequences or at least lessen them before they get caked on and permanent.
And we treat other peoples’ sins against us like this. We keep putting them in the dishwasher over and over and scrub them with the hardest most toxic chemicals we can find. Depending on the grievance, we want them to duly suffer. We have it worked out in our heads some crazy justice scale of balance – if she did this, then she has to pay with this. If he hurt me this much, he has to hurt just as much or some exponentially higher amount more. Otherwise, no one is really that sorry or that repentant… or that forgiven. Right?
It’s a tricky thing proving you’re sorry. Trying to convince someone that you know you did something terrible and you know you deserve their anger, and you really wish you could make it all go away. It’s also a tricky thing to take blame without shifting it, to say I’m sorry without the buts and “if only you…”s and the long explanations. It’s a difficult thing to say I was wrong, deathly wrong, and it doesn’t matter what led up to it. I made a choice and I sinned against you and others, and now I’m going to shut my mouth and wait. Wait for you to say something. Wait for how to take the next step. Wait for some ray of hope and Grace – capital G Grace – to make its way through the thick guilty verdict.
“Waiting for angry words to sear my soul,
Knowing I don’t deserve another chance.
Suddenly, the kindest words I’ve ever heard
Come flooding through my heart.”
– Leslie Philips, Your Kindness, a great 80s song
Romans 2:4, it is God’s kindness that leads us to repentance. It is kindness that we must dwell on, His Grace upon Grace. It is His undeserved charity and disposition toward us that compel us to break down our pride and self-preservation tactics, to forego our need for justice, whatever we have defined that to be, and to repent of our notions that we sit on some throne of judgment, doling out sentences and fines to others and even ourselves. It is a slap in the face of the One Who paid the price for us to continue to pay on the debt and to expect others to do the same. it is an insult to the very cross soaked in righteous blood to continue to wash ourselves and attempt to wash others in that blood as if that moment didn’t quite cover it all. He holds nothing in accounting. He holds everything to us as righteousness. “Blessed are those whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the one whose sin the Lord will never count against them.”
And so God’s kindness leads me to Amazing Grace. To forgive beyond reason and expectation. To give love freely to enemies who would rather see me dead. To see other believers as completely, totally, irrevocably acquitted without any possibility of double jeopardy or even a civil trial. To stop the accounting tabulations that go on in my interactions with others. To be astonishingly understanding and forbearing. To be cosmically, epicly gracious in the face of hurt and pain and disappointment. To use an overused but truly weighty phrase, to forgive as I have been forgiven.
Grace sounds too good to be true. So we try to make it untrue. We are afraid that someone is going to pull the rug out from under us. We think someone made a huge mistake. And we live in fear that our debts might be called in at any moment, that what we thought was paid for was stolen. And we carry around someone else’s debt to us as if it’s collateral, as if it will bring us relief some day when we finally feel like the score has been settled – as if that day will come.
Grace IS too good to be true. And that makes it truer still. It makes it both unbelievable and believable simultaneously, like a galaxy we catch a glimpse of in a clear night sky, but will never see in its entirety with our own eyes. We have to believe its there and we know it is in our very bones and deepest places of our souls. And the glimpses of Grace we get, the glimpses of grace we give to others, are like little sprinkles of pixie dust from a cosmic sized bowl of Grace created to last for all of time and space… until it carries us home.