Faith and values: God gives grace, even when rejected
One of the religious clichés I’ve heard in recent years is that “grace is free, but it isn’t cheap.” That cliché should join arms with the variations of a patriotic cliché about the “price of freedom.” Both make their point, but like all clichés, there is more to the story.
Grace is free but not cheap. OK. So let’s take a few hundred words to explore today’s spirituality question: What if there is more to free grace than we usually settle for? Whose freedom are we talking about? Ours? God’s? Contrary to our normal thinking, they aren’t the same kind of freedom.
I’m alternately amused and angered by some religious teachings about grace, like “God’s grace is a gift – all we need to do is unwrap it.” That’s cute, but there is more to it. Unwrapping the grace-gift implies we accept it.
But what about people who cannot bring themselves to accept God’s grace at a certain moment? Is the package good for only a limited time? Some religious teachings would have us believe grace is a one-time offer. I suggest those teachings don’t really understand the concept of God’s grace very well.
God’s grace is still God’s grace whether we accept it or not. Its presence in our lives doesn’t depend on whether we recognize it or not, or even whether we accept it or not. If there are requirements attached to your understanding of God’s grace, please reconsider whose idea of grace you’re considering. It isn’t God’s.
Requirements on God’s grace actually deny human freedom. If you are required to do something, even something like “accept Jesus as your savior,” aren’t you in fact negotiating with a bargaining God? I really don’t see that kind of God as the one embodied in Jesus the man.
Jesus’ God welcomed all persons. God’s grace is a no-strings welcome into a loving, accepting, nurturing relationship with God. Any requirements to that welcome were conceived by the church’s forefathers/mothers and encouraged by too many Christians today.
We miss another subtle dynamic about freedom and grace. What about God’s freedom in this whole exchange? Or does God even get any freedom to offer grace to whomever God chooses to offer it? To hear some people, that grace and love are offered only to those who ask for it or are worthy of it. By whose standards?
God’s standards seem to be wholly different than ours sometimes. If you believe God only offers grace to duly penitent sinners, you might think again. God offers grace to persons who reject the offer, thank you very much. But then comes the God-twist: God rejects the rejection! Grace is offered anyway!
As much as we might like to control God’s graceful giveaways, we can’t. Thank God!
We may want to deny God’s freedom to reject our rejection of grace. But, frankly, that isn’t our choice to make. We too easily slip into an unintended assumption that our freedom trumps God’s freedom to do as God wants.
In their challenging book “If Grace Is True: Why God Will Save Every Person,” Philip Gulley and James Mulholland strongly affirm their understanding of Jesus’ God this way: “We are free to resist the grace of God, but we are not free to separate ourselves from God’s love” (because God won’t let us go).
We may be free in many ways, but God’s grace is not one of those ways. God will always be free to love us without condition – even when we say no.
The Rev. Paul Graves, a Sandpoint resident and retired United Methodist minister, is the founder of Elder Advocates. He can be contacted at email@example.com.