The moment we think grace will make a person change is the moment it ceases to be grace.
You see, I’m not sure we really believe in grace, or even, for that matter, that we want to believe in grace. There is this belief that seems to undercurrent our understandings of grace. We have come to think that the experience of being fully accepted, warts and all, will somehow force us into altering ourselves. That being given a second chance to be different with an eternal do-over card will be the grand gift to elicit change in a person.
And it might.
And it might not.
That’s why it is grace.
But no, you say. Grace must cause change. Otherwise, why would it be given? Why would God graciously send his son if it would not bring about change? Something in the experience of grace must be so compelling that the person is unable to not change. They must change – must be unable to do anything except change. The experience of grace must be so profound, so ardent that they are compelled to change. Otherwise, what is the point?
With little notice or intent, we have slipped away from grace into something altogether familiar. Law. The inclusive, come-as-you-are, revolution-inducing grace that is the cross of Christ is replaced with the conditional, if-then, prove-yourself-worthy demands of the law.
Grace does not dangle a carrot in front of the hungry.
The celebration of grace is that it, without condition, accepts us as we are. Often, we interpret this unconditional acceptance to be in spite of our horrific past and massive failings. Even with all our baggage on full display, grace accepts us. With all the events that mar our past, grace accepts us. Too often we functionally act as though grace erases those events, or even that it looks past them. But if this is true, then it is no longer grace, rather it is a sort of selective liking. True, grace embraces us despite our checkered past. But true grace – the kind that scandalizes a world practicing karma – accepts us despite our success and righteousness, because neither do our good deeds or mournful missteps earn us favor or condemnation. Grace makes no demands on a person.
It simply says, “Come all you who are thirsty. Come and drink. Come and find life.”
You see, grace also offers us more than a catalyst to change. Grace offers us life. That is why grace is not available to the living, but only the dead. Those who are dead realize they do not need change. Change does nothing for a corpse. No, the only thing of a value that can be offered to a corpse is resurrection.
Grace is the celebration of life in the face of death.
This is why grace and confession go hand in hand. Grace cannot come before confession because life, life that cannot taste death, cannot be entered until death is experienced. Confession is the mere recognition of the stench of death. This is why we are exhorted to carry our cross and daily die. It is not so that we cease to exist, but so we see clearly just how dead we are. In that moment, in the moment we see ourselves as dead we see our only recourse is to find our life in the grace that has been waiting for us to join its celebration of life. Grace is the father who invites us, and waits for us, to come into the party and eat of the fatted calf. Grace is the shepherd who invites his neighbors to celebrate the found lamb. Grace is the woman who wants to rejoice with everyone over a found coin.
Grace doesn’t come to us. Grace has already come to us. It has already removed its tunic, gotten on its knees and washed our feet. This is why our efforts, even our faith, are paltry in the face of grace. We utter nonsense about grace sitting and waiting for us to accept it as if it has not already died on our behalf.
No, grace isn’t waiting for us to accept it. Grace is waiting for us to see that we are already accepted.
**I have been reading Robert Farrar Capon’s Between Noon and Three. This is a fabulous book on grace that I can’t recommend enough. He is shaping and reshaping my thoughts on the amazing grace we all love so much.
photo credit: Christopher JL via photopin cc