Monday, September 19, 2016

The Scandal of Grace

If you aren't even slightly offended by God's grace, then you might not be paying attention.
The thing about grace is that it's free. That's not fair. That's not even close to reasonable. It's not the act of a "just God." But it's the actions of the Christian God.

And I would argue that we see evidence of this insane love across religions and cultures. Mystics of multiple religions talk about this experience of divine love and connection. No mystic describes a meditation experience when she felt ashamed, guilty, or in need of repentance. No, it's all fires that don't burn, visions of glory, and exhortations to not fear.

This kind of grace is uncomfortable. When my daughter needs to apologize to me, I require eye contact. She has to look in my eyes as she apologizes, both because that's good manners and because I want her to see my love for her. I want her to see the forgiveness and love. And she can hardly do it. Imagine it for yourself. Imagine going to someone you have wronged, making eye contact, and saying "I'm sorry." Imagine that this person forgives you freely and instantly. Imagine that they don't want you to make amends. That they don't allow it. How would you feel? Would you shut your eyes from theirs?

When we accept forgiveness, we lose our power. Even asking for forgiveness is a loss of power. It's an bald acknowledgement that we did something wrong. We don't like to lose power! And so, when faced with divine grace on a global scale, we shut it away. We hemmed God's grace in with rules and conditions. We say things like "Love the sinner, hate the sin." We insist that while a gay person can be a member of our church, they can't be in leadership until they deal with their "sin issue." We condemn women who leave abusive marriages.

Because if we worship a God who will freely and fully forgive everyone for anything, we have lost power. We don't have power over others. We can't hold anything against anyone, because the very Creator of the Universe holds nothing against them.

Those who argue for "living moral lives" certainly have a valid and important point. But one thing I hear over and over is that we shouldn't "cheapen" grace. That if we pursue lives of sin and debauchery, we are making God's grace cheap.

God's grace is free. How can it get any cheaper than that?

Look, I get it, I totally get it. I was a good girl. I still am. I follow rules, obey traffic laws and social norms, do "Christian" things. So when I come to accept God's grace, when I ask forgiveness for my sins, I receive grace that's not "cheap." After all, I tried to do right. But what if some "bad" girl comes into my church and receives God's grace? What if she's still hungover from the night before, and fully intends to go out and sin some more that evening? Is she cheapening God's grace? Many would argue she is.
Look at it another way though. That bad girl is throwing herself on God's mercy. She has no expectations that she has earned grace. She knows full well that the only way she'll be found acceptable is by God's grace. The good girl (me) is offering something to God. "Look, God, I made these good deeds for you. But I also failed you. Can you forgive me of my sins? After all, I did a lot of things right..." Who is cheapening God's grace? Who is treating it like a transaction?

There are people in my life that I dislike. There are people I consider bad, or even evil. But if I refuse to acknowledge that they have the same access to grace that I do, I have cheapened God's great gift of grace.

Grace is deeply unfair. There is no justice in it. Thanks be to God.

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