Friday, December 07, 2007

The Challenge of Grace

One of the hallmarks of the Christian faith is “grace.” Grace seems to be a foreign concept to other religions and I believe the lack of grace can influence the behavior of culture.

One of the classic definitions of grace that I grew up with is, “Grace is the granting unmerited favor.” The recipient of grace does not earn favor, reward or benefit, it is given without warrant. I am gracious to my kids, not because they meet my standards of behavior, but because I love them as my children. Not all people who say they have love are gracious. I know some parents who are pretty hard nosed toward their kids and show little tolerance for their actions. They call it “tough love.” I know others who are more than gracious to their children, to the point of spoiling them and do not hold them accountable for anything. I know one dad who has grown children who have never had a job, live at home, watch TV all day and expect dad to provide them with everything. That’s not grace, that’s irresponsible parenthood. Grace is hard to define, but you know it when you see it.

One of the fascinating things about India is how little grace there is in the culture. Whether one is talking about business, driving on the road or simply standing in line to buy stamps, everything is push, shove and get out my way. I don’t have a car in Delhi and so I do a lot of walking. Walking is very much like driving in this city. You never yield to someone; you cut them off, step in front and pretend other people are not there. Seldom do you hear “excuse me” or “after you.” Sometimes in the market I feel as though I am in a rugby match in the middle of a scrub. Perhaps Delhi is just uniquely assertive, much like New York City, aggressive, rude and without grace. Delhiites will tell you that people in the south are much more gracious.

Certainly Americans are not always a gracious people, especially in the midst of Christmas shopping season. What is interesting in America, at least where I live, if a shopper tries to step in front of the check out desk someone will tell them to go back to the end of the line. Honking ones horn in the states is considered rude, whereas in India one can hardly drive without honking every thirty seconds.

Mr. J., my landlord who I dearly love, is personality without grace. Even though he is dying and whose next great event in life will be his temporal demise on this earth, he demonstrates no grace. The other day I went down to see him about our rental contract and there was a genuine dispute in our agreement. Even though the issue amounted to less than $100, he was adamant I owed him that amount which I clearly disagreed. I yielded to his demand because I wasn’t going to quibble about money to a dying man. On the one hand I want to be gracious, the other part of me doesn’t want to be considered a fool. I swallowed hard, gave way to his demand and wondered which part of the coin I was playing, fool or grace? If he was a younger man in good health I would’ve played hardball, but in the end I decided grace was far nobler than playing the game of who gets the better deal.

I walked away from Mr. J. sad. Not because I had been gouged, but because of a man I love who has lived his whole life without grace. Even his own family members avoid coming around him because of a life that has always been bitter, judgmental and intolerant. He will exit life as he has lived, without grace.

It’s impossible to talk about grace and not think of Jesus. The Scriptures say that, “Even though we are sinners, Christ died for us.” Salvation is not provided for those who are good, who deserve to go to heaven. The truth is no one is worthy of God’s love; it’s something He bestows on us in spite of our rebellion to Him. Is He a fool, a Cosmic sucker? Not at all. Even though He is a gracious God, He requires men to do one thing, believe in Him as the eternal God and accept His free grace. “By grace are you saved, through faith,” the Bible says. “Not of works, less any man should boast.” His part of the deal is to provide salvation freely; my part of the deal is to accept, embrace that grace He has extended to me.

We live in graceless world and to me that’s why we live in a world of hate, violence and greed. The pushing and shoving we engage in each day may be the way to get ahead in this world, but it's not the way to God's heart. There are a lot of things I need today, but my prayer is that God will grant me more grace; both on the receiving and giving end of things.

1 comment:

Bill said...

Richard, while reading your post I was immediately struck by Jesus’ prophecy concerning the last days: “And then many will be offended, will betray one another and hate one another…and because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold” {Mat. 24:10 & 12 NKJV].
While these might not be THE last days He was referring to; I cannot imagine how cities, neighborhoods and etc. will be as the love of many grows cold. There are many all over the world like your beloved Mr. J.; what will they be like?
As always, your posts are great “brain food” for me, thank you!
P.S. Your post adds some insight to Mr. J’s remark concerning your happy birthday greeting: “I’m so sick of myself”.