[Note: this is not a reproduction of my January 2, 2010 entry “I am Thankful for the Grace of God.]
I confess, if I am not in a church setting and I hear the word “grace” my mind goes to Grace Kelly. I am too young (I don’t hear myself say that very often any more) to remember the actress turned real life Princess well. I do have an image of a strikingly beautiful blond with an air of sophistication, poise, style and elegance. This image captures the modern understanding of grace for me.
It is sad that we have reduced a powerful theological term to a shallow social descriptor. In the Scriptures grace is “unmerited favor.” At its core it conveys the sense of a gift that flows from the heart of a generous giver. The receiver has done nothing to warrant the gift. It originates solely in the disposition of the benefactor.
A related term is “mercy.” Mercy is grace in the face of guilt. It is the unmerited gift of forgiveness. Mercy reduces the punishment to something less than the crime dictates. Mercy is largely a legal term. It is also a reference to power and authority. Mercy is bestowed by the powerful on the powerless.
Although grace encompasses mercy, the two words are not synonyms. Grace is a much broader concept. Grace speaks of abundance and deprivation, of possession and want or need. The Apostle Paul understood. Buffeted by a messenger of Satan with a “thorn in the flesh,” Paul sought God three times for deliverance, but what he got instead was a promise, “my grace is sufficient for you.” In this case grace has nothing to do with mercy that delivers from the consequences of sin. Here, grace has to do with survival in the face of pain.
Properly understood, all grace, like all truth and life flows from God. It is by grace the heavens and earth and all they contain were formed. By grace we draw our breath and all that is is sustained. Grace holds back the power of sin to utterly destroy even the vilest of sinners. It is never passive. It is always actively engaged in the redemption and fulfillment of its object. Grace is a force that breathes life into the dying, a force that will not rest until all is wrapped in the arms of God. This grace is best seen in love reaching out to the hurting and needy. It is not defined by finesse of presentation. This grace gets dirty, is often wounded and has little concern for image. This grace finds beauty not in itself but in the objects of its affection.
Cheryl kindly allowed me to name our second daughter Karisa, a lose transliteration of the Greek word for grace. OK, it was not so amicable a process. We had agreed on Karisa and Gabrielle. Cheryl wanted Gabrielle Karisa Johns, with the plan to call her Karisa. I insisted Karisa should be the first name especially if that was what we were going to call her. When the nurse came in to fill out the birth certificate we had a loving disagreement. Finally the nurse said, “You don’t have to decide right now. But you will have to agree before she goes home.” With little grace, I prevailed except that Cheryl, also with little grace, called her Gabrielle for the longest, especially when they were alone.
Karisa has always been my angel (Gabrielle) of grace. She embodies all of the nuances of the word. She could be a model: beauty, poise, charm. She is a giver; she sees a person with need and does something about it. She can ignore her own needs to a fault and doesn’t mind getting dirty if it will add to the wellbeing of another. Her responses are appropriate to the situation. She was a social worker and her clients discovered her to be compassionate, but tough as nails when grace required it.
I am thankful for grace. It will not leave us alone. It will make us miserable, teaching our hearts to fear in order that it might “all our fears relieve.” By grace we are wounded that we might be made whole. Grace is God’s love, unwilling to settle for anything less than the best for the objects of His affections, His creation. Grace is God giving Himself to us and for us.
March 19, 2010