The central Christian conviction is that God is a God of grace.
‘Grace’ is a Bible word that means love that we don’t have to earn or deserve; it comes to us as a free gift from God, because it’s the nature of God to love. As Philip Yancey puts it, there’s nothing we can do to make God love us more, and nothing we can do to make God love us less; God already loves us infinitely, and nothing is ever going to change that.
This does not mean that we can’t refuse the love of God. God has given us that right, and God honours our decision. But the refusal is on our part, not God’s part.
Grace involves the acceptance of imperfection, or what Francis Spufford calls our ‘human propensity to mess things up’ (he actually used a stronger word than ‘mess’, but this is, after all, a family blog!). Grace is realistic; it recognizes that we are all recovering sin addicts, and that change is very, very hard for us. Nonetheless, grace chooses love over hate, forgiveness over vengeance, patience over punishment.
Those who are aware that they are the recipients of grace can also be graceful (in this sense) toward one another. We are very aware of our own failings, but we are patient and forgiving toward ourselves. We are invited to extend this patience and forgiveness toward others as well.
Grace is the only hope for peace in the world. The alternative is the continuing cycle of revenge. You hit me, I’ll hit you back harder. You burn down my village, I’ll burn down ten of yours. This is why the conflict in Ireland went on so long, and why the conflicts in the Middle East continue to this day. If we can’t forgive, we’re doomed to keep hurting each other and killing each other. Grace is our only hope.
Jesus exemplifies the way of grace. He taught his followers to love their enemies and pray for those who hated them. He reached out to good and bad alike, offering forgiveness and love. And then when he was crucified, he practiced what he preached: ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do’. They killed him, but they could not kill his love for them.
God of love, thank you for your amazing grace that reaches out to us as we are. Thank you that it is your nature to love the unlovely into lovableness. Give us courage and strength to love others as you have loved us. Amen.