It seems to me that grace is the thread that keeps appearing in the different stories in my life. Yet I sit here in front of my computer, speechless to describe what grace is. So allow me to tell you three short stories to try and put into words this overwhelming concept.
The first story happened a couple of months ago. Bryan had a disastrous morning. He wasn’t feeling very well lately and had been having a difficult time falling asleep at night. He woke up late. His mom had told him that he needed to go and see the doctor before going to school. He had assignments to finish. Assignments due that day. The only reason he was going to school that day was because of a Math test he was definitely not prepared for.
Frustrated, anxious, and sporting a temple-splitting headache, Bryan shuffled into his Biblical Studies class very, very late. He burst into the classroom, getting his bags caught in the doorway, while at the same time holding up a hall pass and sputtering incomplete sentences. He fully expected a reprimand, or at least a guilt-trip filled lecture about his tardiness and possible lack of respect. Instead, his teacher greeted him and threw a small rectangular object at him. He caught it and saw that it was a Starbucks card. He looked up at his teacher, confused. She smiled at him and said, "That's for you."
Incredulously, he asked her why. “Me?” he asked again. She just smiled again and assured Bryan that the Starbucks card was indeed his. He asked his teacher if it was from his girlfriend, she said no. It was from her. At that point the class erupted. Everyone was mad. "That's unfair! He didn't do anything! He came late! We’ve been here all period. Why don’t we get the Starbucks card?” The teacher told Bryan to sit down. She calmed the class down and said, "This... is grace.”
As humans, we are somehow obsessed with our form of justice. We want things to be fair. We want the people who deserve certain things to get those things. Grace confuses us to the core. Mercy is being spared the punishment we rightfully deserve. Grace takes it a step further. Grace gives us a gift when we deserved punishment. At its most basic roots, grace is unfair.
This second story is probably one of my favorite stories. It is a truth universally known that… a good man is hard to find. And Hosea was an all around great guy. He loves the Lord, he’s committed to serving God, he lives a godly life. Then God tells him to marry the town’s most notorious working girl and make an honest woman out of her. Being a man of God, Hosea did what he was told to do. He took Gomer out of the shady environment she was in and married her. For a while, things looked great. Their marriage was good. But then Gomer got restless and started talking to her ex-boyfriends and the men she used to encounter. One day, Hosea got home and found the house empty. His wife had left him to go back to the world he had taken her out of.
At that point, any guy with a sense of dignity would just wash his hands of her. But God prompted Hosea to pursue his tainted wife. Hosea did exactly that. He looked for Gomer in the darkened alleys and the dimmed taverns and the questionable establishments. When he found her, she no longer looked the part of a wife. She was tainted. She was also bound and owned. In his pursuit of her, Hosea bought his wife from her owner and brought her back home. He reinstated her as his wife, as mother of his children. She who had been a disgrace became the treasure of the house.
Upon hearing Hosea’ story, our first reaction was probably to call Hosea a coward, a spineless excuse of a man, a sorry human being. But God, the author of this story said, “This… is grace.”
In the original languages, the words for grace mean an act of “leaning” or “extending.” G
race leans towards to bestow favor. Grace freely extends itself to people. Grace reaches out. Grace doesn’t just sit back and wash its hands of those addicted to filth. Grace goes out of its way to reach out to the tainted. Grace pursues the seemingly hopeless. At its most basic form, grace extends beyond what is expected.
The last story is yours and mine. There was only one way for you and me to be in right relationship with God. That one way involved the death of the Son of God, Jesus Christ. Continually faced with people who rejected him, mocked him, plotted against him, Jesus chose to be faithful and die a horrible, humiliating criminal’s death. The divine hanging on a Roman torture contraption to save people who deserved an eternity of pain was unheard of. Unfathomable. Jesus chose the cross, a gift for us.
At its most basic form, grace is the two most loving words strung together, sealing our faith: "But God."
We live in a world where achievements are lauded. People are praised for the things that they have accomplished with their strength, their skills, their wits. If someone gets a gift, they should have earned it. We don’t know how to react to unmerited gift. And in the case of the God who so loved the world that he gave the gift of his only Son, nothing we can ever do is enough to repay that gift. As Frederick Buechner wrote,
Jesus lived out grace. It is the essence that flows in every action, every word, every thought, every decision. As part of his body that is connected to the head - the center of our being - we as Christians should exude grace in every action, every word, every thought, every decision. While we may have differing roles or functions in the body, when we extend and receive grace, we become what we are created to be, a community that is loving and Christ-like.
Download the graphic for your phone background here.