A Grace So Rare

Perhaps a new window has opened through which to gain of glimpse of what grace is all about. It’s a window, however, that is found in a difficult place, where one might not expect it. And it comes with a warning: don’t get too close or gaze too long unless you are willing to be thoroughly changed. Not just primped a bit, but actually and totally changed.

Grace belongs to a culture of redemption. Such a culture assumes that there is a huge problem, one from which we cannot extricate ourselves. It assumes that something marvelous, something unexpected, something beyond all imagination will intervene on our behalf, and transform us from creatures of despair into purveyors of hope. Grace does not belong to those whose only hope is to see that others fare no better than oneself, nor to those who insist that each one gets what is coming to them for each and every act performed or decision made. Nor does it come to those who deem it their birthright, presume upon it, and cheapen its character.

A culture of redemption, where grace has been seen and cherished, seeks its extension into more and more broken situations, even those most hopeless in appearance. It refuses to have people defined by their broken condition or by the ones who have been deemed, rightly or wrongly, to be responsible for the particular form of their brokenness. It refuses to assume that anyone, victim and perpetrator alike, lies beyond the reach of grace. It expects at least partial redeeming and restoration in this world and anticipates full restoration in the world to come, the reality of which is demonstrated by what we see now only as its shadows. But they are real shadows. They are cast by a Son, shining upon the ones who understand His ways, have been moved by His self-giving love, intended for all, appropriated by the few. This is a culture that rejoices with every healing step of the injured, every faint smile of the hopeless, every gleam in the eye of the one who understands a new truth for the first time, every victim, turned healer, every villain who turns to lift up a fallen traveler. It celebrates those who teach, those who heal, those who smile in the face of the down-trodden, those who give.

This culture of grace, however, must live within the land of anger, rashness, and retribution. The citizens of this land do not remember well, do not honor consistently, do not care beyond the latest news, do not wait for full disclosure, do not ask questions. They cast judgments not in expectation of restoring anyone or anything; they assume and mourn eternal victimhood for those who have been mistreated, and expect and practice eternal perdition for the guilty. They are led by the monster of public opinion, who does his best work in a heated moment, when anger and outrage are at their peak; he works through the cowardice of those who think they can appease him if only for a moment, by “doing something.”

These cultures occupy the same territory; and at times it is easy to forget to which one we belong. Forgive me if I have too much stock in redemption and grace; it’s because I need it so much. And forgive me if I express too much disgust and disappointment with the culture of retribution; it’s because I believe that something better is possible for everyone. Jesus taught me that when he stretched out his arms twice, once before giving himself to the worst of human anger; and once when he overcame it all in resurrection power, ascending to his throne and telling us he will be with us. I can’t feel at home in any other culture. I just wish it were not so hard to find.

Yes, I grieve for young boys, for Joe, for Jerry, and for the university I once owned proudly. I think Jesus does, too.