I know I have said it before, but this season has been revealing in many ways. Crisis has a way of showing what we depend upon, where our thoughts go in the midst of struggle and the underlining nature of our fears. After reading a truly great article yesterday (read it here), I was reminded how one thing is being revealed again and again: the lack of grace we often show each other. It surfaces in our world because it lurks within our hearts. We can talk a good talk about grace, mercy and forgiveness, but if we are not careful, gracelessness will creep into our lives and color everything we touch. If we allow the gospel of grace to work fully, it will enlighten every corner of our lives.
When we talk about grace, it is hard to avoid thinking of the hymn “Amazing Grace.” The writer, John Newton, was the captain and a crew member of a number of slave ships for years. When a storm threatened to sink the ship he was traveling on, he fell to the deck and cried out for God’s mercy. God spared his life, and over time Newton’s faith deepened. Years later, he became a rector at a church in London where he served until his death. It was during his ministry, prompted by a study of 1 Chronicles 17:16-17 that he wrote his beloved anthem to grace: Then King David went in and sat before the LORD and said, “Who am I, O LORD God, and what is my house, that you have brought me thus far? And this was a small thing in your eyes, O God. You have also spoken of your servant’s house for a great while to come, and have shown me future generations, O LORD God!
“Who am I that God would show such grace?” asked King David.
“Who am I that he would do the same for me?” asked John Newton.
As widely-shared as the story of the conversion of Newton and the penning of the famous hymn may be, there is one incident of his life that is lesser-known. On one of his slave-trading voyages, Newton fell overboard. His crew detested him, so instead of tossing him a rope for rescue, one crew member threw a harpoon into Newton’s hip, and they hauled him aboard. Because of that injury, John Newton limped for the rest of his life. His broken gait and slowed pace served as an ever-present reminder of his former life and of a God who can rescue from both physical and spiritual deep, dark waters.
We all need grace. When we receive it, God will allow us, in his mercy, the blessing of a limp as well. In our limping, we learn compassion. In our slowed gait, we are less likely to run ahead of God. Along our broken way, we will recognize others who need a measure of grace, mercy and comfort as well.
We all need grace, and we all have a limp.
Our limps serve as reminders that grace is amazing because we are not.
We will be quick to approach God as we depend upon his great mercy and grace toward us. – Hebrews 4:16 Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
We would show the same mercy to others that God shows toward us. – Luke 6:36 Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.
We will remain humble before God as we recognize that grace is an undeserved gift. – James 4:6 But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”
Update: I received an email recently in response to this post and the article when I shared these thoughts with our church. I’m including the main text of the message below with the response I sent. The exchange illustrates why we must practice a lifestyle of grace in everything we do…
I read the article you shared with followers last week regarding grace for various COVID opinions, and I have to say, I disagree. I appreciate the church’s message of loving through disagreement- I feel like that coincides with loving despite sin. However, I don’t think the church and science share a stage. Confidence, as referenced throughout the article, and “optimism,” are lovely, as long as they don’t put others at risk. It seems to me like, what the article brands as confidence, is behaviors that challenge the safety of others. For example, as has been said from the beginning, wearing a mask is about preventing the spread of your own disease, not about prevention of contagion. I fear that conservative Christian populations remain the most at risk, as a result of their physical representations of community and common propensity for Republican support. Despite that fear, I hope you remain safe.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts. The article was shared with the intent of how to show grace to others as we navigate the post-pandemic landscape.
I do believe the writer was showing a wise, extra degree of care and grace in his alliterative labels: “Cautious / Confident / Cauti-dent.” The very terms can cause knee-jerk reactions in some. Over the last 60 days, I have heard “confident” people label “cautious” people as cowards, fear-mongers and leftists. I have heard “cautious” people refer to “confident” people as reckless, murderous and anti-science. And I have seen both the “cautious” and the “confident” refer to the actions of the “cauti-dent” as fence-straddling and weak-willed. (Being in this third group myself, I’m become accustomed to having both sides wanting to bend my ear to be a voice for “their viewpoint” and enduring their displeasure when I find myself taking what I regard as a prayerful, measured response.)
When people from the differing camps hurl those assumptive labels at each other, it is done with an assumptive, righteous indignation. In the end, no one will get all of this right; and few will be completely wrong on all points.
Gracelessness abounds, and many Christians do not practice grace with those outside the faith or each other (this goes beyond the suggestion that grace only applies to how we deal with the sins of others; it is how God intends us to live with each other in all ways). It is difficult to show great grace to others, and that is the point of it: grace costs the giver. It always does.
Not only is there the larger view of the church in America in need of showing grace, the article was a step to prepare us locally for the time we resume meeting again. We will have guidelines in place for safety. These guidelines will create some necessary extra steps. Some will think the steps are too much; some will think they are not enough. Some will think we should not meet until much more time passes (no matter when that is); some will think we should have never stopped meeting. Some will wear masks to gatherings; some will not. For some, in the absence of other evidence, the mask has become the litmus test for the assumed views on science, politics and morality in general. And into spaces such as that, where the environment is ripe for heated disagreement, the body of Christ must not turn upon itself.
It would be nice if we lived in a world where every conflict was easily-solved, every right course of action was obvious and every intention was clear. But we don’t. So we must show grace.
Again, thanks for sharing your opinion, and we can show each other grace (even if we might disagree on terminology or practice in the days to come).