If anything has become clear in the last while, it is that our society does not understand grace. In an age filled to the brim with violence, injustice, anger, confusion, and the like, grace is needed more than ever. But grace is in short supply. Rummage the pages of the newspaper, flip through the news channels, or take a scroll among the Facebook comments – wherever you look you’ll be hard-pressed to find grace.
In our present age, if you say or do (or have said or have done) something deemed intolerant or offensive there will be no grace for you. Instead of grace, you will be shamed and bullied into a kind of repentance with practically no hope of forgiveness. Certain views have been determined to be outdated or bigoted and the way to refute those views is to simply yell louder. Fruitful, respectful dialogue is rare and has been ironically replaced by quick judgements. Tolerance has taken on a new definition and we have forgotten how to live with those we disagree with. We’ve forgotten what grace means and how to live by grace.
All this lack of grace is not surprising for a society that has all but rejected Christianity and replaced it with the religion of self. In order for us to feel good about ourselves, it is naturally the case that we seek to point out the flaws in others. We highlight their evils, tear them down, and heap on the shame. If you have thrown out the rule book of living, everyone and everything is fair game and soon chaos ensues. That is what you are seeing out in the streets.
If our society really understood grace, it could turn everything upside-down. We might actually see racial-reconciliation or agree on better ways to take care of the planet and its people. It’s almost certain suicide and depression rates would drop drastically. Governments might be afforded the space to pass laws that actually work instead of oiling the squeaky wheels. Grace, as defined by the gospel of Jesus, is a powerful thing.
The apostle Paul explains what grace is in his letter to the church in Rome. He writes: “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Christ loved us and sacrificed for us while we were still stuck in the miserable pit of our sin and shaking our fists at God. Christ died for us not because we were beautiful, but to make us beautiful. That is grace. Doing unto someone else the opposite of what they deserve.
Now, if Jesus had patterned his salvation plan according to the thinking of today, he would have waited till the ungodly learned to toe the lines of God’s law. Jesus would have come down to earth to hound out all the dirty sinners and shame them into conforming to the holiness of heaven (and of course that would not have worked). He definitely would not have dined with the outcasts of society, let alone die for them and all their ugly sins. But Jesus’ salvation plan was based on grace, and thank goodness because grace is exactly what we need.
At this moment in time, our society needs grace more than ever. Thankfully there is still one place where grace can be found. The Church of Jesus Christ stands as a bold witness to what grace means and how it changes everything. When the world peers into the windows of the Church, they catch a glimpse of grace in action – a way of living quite different from what they are used to. At least that is the way it ought to be.
If we, in the Church, find ourselves heaping shame on the guilty and “othering” those who look and live differently, then we need a return to grace. How easy it is to slip into the heavily-trodden ruts of worldly thinking! We disagree with someone’s opinion and we attack the person. Or we see clearly the errors of someone else and we gleefully point them out. In short, we adopt, often in a subtler way, the shaming and shunning patterns of the world. We fail to show grace.
Knowing this, we ought to be on guard and ensure that we clearly understand what grace means. We need to refresh ourselves once again with the life-giving grace of God and let it seep into every crack and crevice in our life. We need to extend to others the same grace which God has so amazingly extended to us. Only then will we, as the hands and feet of Christ, begin to mend the wounds of a hurting world gasping for grace.