Yesterday, stopped at a red light, I tried to shield my eyes from the glaring, late-afternoon sun. Perhaps I was also subconsciously trying to shield them from the homeless man holding a sign that said, “On the road, out of food,” and from his two miserable, panting dogs.
Then the thought: “I have received too much grace.”
Musings similar to this have risen to the surface before; I notice they are more persistent when I hear of someone experiencing tragedy and heartache or when good things – things I could never have imagined or planned – roll out like red carpet before my life’s steps. I can feel myself waiting for a shoe to drop, wanting to give some of these good things back and maybe even sometimes wishing that my life hadn’t been so completely devoid of disaster.
Goodness. This is not the God I say that I serve.
This is a calculating, tit-for-tat, rules-based god; one who demands perfection and promises no reward (he plays by his own, incomprehensible rules). This is a god that is unfair, that doles out punishment randomly, that lavishes riches just as randomly, and who is just waiting up in heaven on a lofty, unreachable throne to inflict suffering on his next victim.
Somehow, after years of study, prayer and life in Christian community, I still think that grace can be measured. I still think I can look at my own life, compare it to someone else’s and think, “I have received more grace than she has.” I still wonder when God will remove grace from my life, when I will be the victim of some untold tragedy, when He will retreat from me in silence.
But grace does not have a price tag. People – good, evangelical, well-meaning people – often say that the price of grace was Jesus’ life; His death on the cross was what “paid” our debt to God. This idea probably comes from the word “ransom” that is used in connection with Jesus’ actions on behalf of His people in the New Testament: “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45, NIV) It also comes from Colossians 2:13-14, where Paul says: “He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross.” However, the word “ransom” and the concept of canceling debt are just two of the many word pictures that are used to give us a partial description of who Jesus is, and why He did what He did on the cross (others include sacrifice, bread, light, resurrection, living water, son, and redemption).
Jesus on the cross, crying out in shame and agony to His Father and gasping underneath the weight of our sin and humiliation, is not a one-word-picture situation. Jesus cannot be contained or summed up in a simplistic equation. His dying, descending, raising for us is an immeasurable offer of life now and forever. His scarred hands do not pick up the pen to keep a tally of who receives good and who suffers bad. No, no – his hands are an open, infinite invitation that extend renewed life of peace and purpose to everyone.
Jesus does not exclude the homeless man with the sign; in His economy, that homeless man is extended the same lavish riches of forgiveness, wholeness and joy that I (the one walking around thinking about how good I have it) have been given.
Real grace–His grace–is priceless and blind to the differences we mortals can see. And it can never be too much.