The Taser's Edge

How We Misunderstand Grace

I am convinced that when we talk about giving someone grace, we usually don’t know what we’re talking about.  We show that we don’t know what we’re talking about–the vast majority of the time–by following up our talk of grace with a description of extenuating circumstances:

Ex. A: “You can’t be so hard on her.  Give her some grace.  Don’t you know what kind of home life she grew up in?”

Ex. B: “I told that professor about how my parents were going through that mess at the time, and thankfully he said he would give me some grace when he was grading my final paper.  I’m so relieved.”

Ex. C: “Don’t be so hard on yourself about it.  Give yourself some grace.  You’re only human.”

The definition of grace, however, is that there are no extenuating circumstances, and the recipient of grace might even be completely deserving of being ignored or worse, AND YET you still offer mercy.  Yes, it’s important that we are people who notice context and people’s stories (Example A, above), that we make room for people who are affected by things beyond their control (Example B), and that our relationship with ourselves isn’t generally characterized by self-condemnation (Example C).  Still, none of those things are grace.

Grace for examples like A is to think of that person who has let you down or hurt you once again, that person who (whatever their personal history) has failed to take personal responsibility to the extent that they do have power over their circumstances, and then to choose to continue to forgive and to engage with them.

Grace for examples like B is the professor whose student had no good reason for waiting to start the paper until 3 hours before class (following up a semester of poor participation and lackluster attendance), but who says to the student, “Take another day to pull this together and turn it in tomorrow.”

Grace for examples like C is to think of those times when you just have really let yourself down.  Maybe you just really made a decision that you knew would deeply wound the person who is closest to you, or maybe you just watched YouTube videos all day and the project/paper/sermon that really needed to be completed will now be low quality and late.  And instead of saying to yourself, “You @#$%^&ing @#$%er!”, you say, “I still love you, and even though you did something hurtful to me and perhaps even others, I forgive you.”

So let’s consider the nature of grace here.  In example A, grace might look a lot like enabling, and the grace-giver is choosing to suffer.  In example B, grace looks like choosing to play the fool (and perhaps some more enabling).  In example C, grace looks like letting yourself off the hook for a wrong you’re truly responsible for.

Being let off the hook for a wrong you’re truly responsible for.  As a basic definition of what grace is, that’ll do (whether it’s cheap grace or the costly kind).  What would our ways of relating to other people look like if we truly began offering that kind of grace, approaching real grace, to one another?  More pain, yes, but also more faith, more hope, and more love.

Lk 15:20b--"But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him."