I believe in grace. I would not be who I am and where I am apart from grace. I’ve experienced grace in a variety of ways and circumstances. I believe in grace, but I do not understand it.
In its purest form, as received from God, grace comes unmerited. Yet it seems that some people who receive grace are motivated to a higher level of living and become the recipients of more grace. Is that a backhanded way of earning grace? There also seem to be some people on whom grace just doesn’t fall. Did they do something to warrant the withholding of grace?
Perhaps I struggle because I do as do so many others. I too often equate the receiving of God’s grace with success and joy. I know better. I’ve experienced grace in times of failure and in times of deep sorrow. I’ve known the wonder of grace in times when I’ve been afraid. Yet when things are tough, for me or others, I want to ask God, “Where is your grace?”
I don’t understand grace, but I give thanks for it. I long for it, and I sometimes beg for it. More often than not, I see grace in the rearview mirror of my life. I can look back at four and a half hard and lean years in one pastorate and now see that those years led to the thirty-three plus years I’ve spent in Eminence. Looking back to 1998 when my dad was the victim of shooting and spent 90 days in the hospital, I can now see that through that experience I became a more sensitive pastor than I might otherwise have been. Dad, too, experienced grace in the experience and emerged as a better man. Please understand . . . I don’t think God caused my dad to be shot so that he and I might be graced. There are numerous things that caused the shooting. Grace came because God doesn’t run and hide when stuff, including the stuff of our sin, occurs.
Perhaps grace is almost always baptismal grace. It is what comes to us as we see ourselves as inside the circle of God’s love. “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased,” the voice from heaven declared at Jesus’ baptism. Is that not the message at every son’s and daughter’s baptism? Sure, baptism is a sign of our profession of faith, of our dying and rising with Jesus; but it is more. It is also a sign of God’s welcoming us, declaring what we should have known from the beginning: that we come from God, belong to God, and ultimately return to God.
That’s grace enough! To be in God’s family is grace. To be in God’s family is not to be free of all that comes with being human. We struggle; we grow ill; we hurt; we misunderstand; and eventually we die. Yet in all of it, we discover grace, the grace of being and the grace of not being forgotten or left alone.
I don’t understand grace; but I have experienced it; and living in grace leaves me convinced that it comes to all. What distinguishes us is not the outpouring of grace but our recognition of its presence.
To know that we belong to the Creator of all that is grace. Such grace leads me to cling to the promise of Isaiah 43:1-3 even when the waters run fast and deep and the fire burns toward me. I cling to that grace because the Creator of all that is has redeemed me and called me his own.