Grace is less a what, than a how.
Actually, in Christianity, the first question to ask about grace is who? Who is grace? It starts in Genesis and spirals toward Jesus. Jesus is grace, God's response to the demoniac's question, "Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are...." (Mark 1:24) But that's a longer story, another blog post.
If you're reading this blogpost, you probably have your own idea of who Jesus is, anyway. Or, if I write, "Grace is Jesus!," you may think I mean Jesus is the correct answer to some divine math problem, that if you get wrong, you fail the test and go to hell. That's not what I mean.
It's hard to get the truth about grace from Christian salespeople. Christian salespeople don't mean to lie to you. But, it is a sell job. Once the message falls on our ears, the meaning of grace is often confused. The message isn't really true anymore. It's more of a gift that if you don't receive, well....to hell with you. Preachers will tell you grace is free. That's not completely true. If "free" means you can just get as much as you want and use as much as you want, that might be true but that's not how it works.
How grace works is getting at what I mean by, "how is grace." Christian salespeople will also tell you a cosmic drama about grace. It goes something like this; There's a perfect God in heaven that can't stand your imperfection and requires sacrifice. No sacrifice you come up with is good enough, so God has to supply His own. (God is usually cast as a "He" in this story.) The proposition is something like, "God loves you so much that He killed his son for you. Don't you want to be a child of God, now, too?" It's an odd proposal. It's actually a bit terrifying. What they mean to say is that you can't earn grace or qualify for grace. And, that's true by definition. Grace is like mercy in that way. But, once you deserve grace by getting the salvation formula right or saying the right prayer, it's not really grace anymore. It's just a change of rules,
Christian salespeople seem to misunderstand the whole complicated biblical debate about Law and Grace behind all this. It's this ancient debate that's important to its time. God, sin, righteousness in the ancient world wasn't all religious stuff. It was also the stuff of politics. And, that ole' debate about Law and Grace is what makes grace, grace. You can't qualify for it with some salvation formula or code of righteousness.
Christian salespeople make grace sound like this thing everyone can have, but only Christians really have. They sell it as an open secret that you only need your bible to read about, and only the smart and saved will get it.
If you pray the Jesus prayer and mean it, you get grace. And, if you follow the rules - which can include not being gay or trans, or believing wisdom from other religions, or voting for the right part - then you can stay in the God's graces and keep grace.
But, then, it's not really grace anymore.
Too many Christian salespeople don't realize that is the biblical debate on Law and Grace all over again. And, they get it wrong. They are on the wrong side of Law and Grace. They just reinvent the problem. They make grace look a lot like a law. It is true that none of us are perfect. And, it's true that we all need grace, sometimes in individual instances but also ultimately, in the end of things.
Wise and thoughtful people who think about being human might realize we need grace all the time. Life requires grace to find meaning in it, especially if we face who we are and the human condition seriously. If we just look at the possibility of nuclear war or possibilities of getting the environmental crisis wrong, or simply consider the brokenness of human relationships and violence, then grace becomes something precious and needed in the world. Most of us don't need the divine drama of cosmic hopelessness in a perfect God who requires one of his children to be killed..
Trauma, rejection, anxiousness, despair, living with pain, broken relationships or fear are enough to need grace. We don't need to be exploited by adding eternal hopelessness to the mix. God is right here in life's crises, difficulties and tragedies. And, anyone facing life's difficulties knows grace is absolutely needed. It's free and undeserved by definition. But, it does require something to embrace it and move forward. Grace does require something to make it work.
By definition, we can't deserve grace or earn it. That's not a theological assertion as much as it is simply a correct use of the word. Something undeserved and unearned is, by definition, a gift.
In addition, if human beings are universally imperfect - meaning we don't measure up all the time to whatever standard, practical or ideal - then grace is eventually for everyone. It's just a matter of time....and circumstances....and expectations. How, then, does grace happen? If we don't earn it or deserve it, we have to ask. The how of grace is first asking for it. It's bending to our need for grace. We don't need a story about a perfect God or eternal hopelessness to need grace. The need is still there.
Hopefully, life hasn't bent us so far inside or outside that we can no longer ask for or receive the gift of grace. That can happen. But, when we are that bent, we need grace all the more. Receiving grace can be really really hard. The intensity of life can, alone, make grace seem equally necessary and impossible. Like any gift unwanted or unwarranted, it can be awkward to admit it, ask for it, or receive it. But, that's what grace is by definition - unwarranted, even unwanted.
It's possible that we don't even see our need for grace. We can be our own barrier when it comes to grace. That's pretty biblical, too.
Just receiving a gift can be difficult. With grace, admitting we need grace takes humility and vulnerability. To receive its full power and value, we must meet grace with vulnerable honestly. Honesty, humility, and vulnerability are requirements for grace in the deserving sense. It's a matter of how to receive and embrace its power and worth. Making any changes we can to our circumstances follows, again not as a requirement for deserving it but receiving the gift. To increase any gift means paying it forward. That's how grace works. And, for something so free and undeserving for everyone, receiving it freely and freely paying it forward is the only way there'll ever be enough. Thank you, Jesus.