Grace: Everything’s gonna be alright

So this morning I woke up to find in my email this letter:

Hello there, O faith mentor, how are things? I do try not to seriously bug the snot out of you with my myriad questions, so I pick the important ones when I feel moved. Hoping you might have magically answered this already.

And I am at the Stupid Question section of my faith journey, but here’s goes.

The subject: Grace

I wasn’t taught Grace. I was taught Undeserved Kindness, which I’m only assuming is in the same realm although likely not the same since I dislike undeserved kindness. It always sounded (and often felt) so Dickensian. May I have some more, please?

So is Grace a ‘thing’? Is it the Holy Spirit, or is it more like an energy, a divine force? And maybe most important, how do Christians see Grace show up in their lives? How do Christians know and experience Grace? So when life sucks and nothing makes sense, Christians can look within, find that Grace thing and have something tangible to hang onto.

Is it Grace that makes Christ real to them?

So lemme just run through this real quick. I’ll put my answers below in beautific blue.

Hello there, O faith mentor [Faith Mentor. I'm sooooo putting that on my business cards], how are things? [I don't know. Needing dusting?] I do try not to seriously bug the snot out of you [ew: bugs and snot. I wonder what's for breakfast?] with my myriad questions, so I pick the important ones when I feel moved. [Cool.] Hoping you might have magically answered this already. [I answer everything I do in a magically delicious way. Mmm, Lucky Charms. Breakfast. Hungry. Must mature.]

And I am at the Stupid Question section of my faith journey [sweet!], but here’s goes.

The subject: Grace [Wow. What a suddenly no-nonsense approach.]

I wasn’t taught Grace. [though I much dig the respect it shows you don't have to capitalize it unless we're talking about someone named Grace, which I can tell already would be totally funny but let's not start the day getting struck by lightening]. I was taught Undeserved Kindness, which I’m only assuming is in the same realm [sounds about right] although likely not the same since I dislike undeserved kindness. [Wait—what? Why don't you like undeserved kindness? That doesn't make sense. Who doesn't like undeserved kindness? Bit o' a red flag.] It always sounded (and often felt) so Dickensian. [So I'm saying your teacher on this sucked.] May I have some more, please? [But little Oliver Twist did deserve some more. That's the whole point of that scene: it was unjust for the boy to be hungry.]

So is Grace a ‘thing’? [Yes. Grace is a thing. It's a deeply hardcore-Christian-theology thing, but it's definitely a thing.] Is it the Holy Spirit [no. kind of. yes. sort of. generally yes.], or is it more like an energy [sort of: yes], a divine force? [definitely yes.]

[So the idea behind grace is ... well, here's the very well said opening of the Wiki entry on Grace (Christianity): In Christian theology, grace can be defined as the love and mercy given to us by God because God wants us to have it, not because of anything we have done to earn it. It is understood by Christians to be a spontaneous gift from God to man— "generous, free and totally unexpected and undeserved"—that takes the form of divine favor, love and clemency. So that's a top-notch wrap-up.]

And maybe most important, how do Christians see Grace show up in their lives? [Well, of course, it depends on the Christian. The idea is that it makes you feel good about your life and your future—and thereby moves you to want to selflessly help and love others. You have been saved from things like worry, resentment, and being relentlessly critical of yourself—you're actually happy—so you in turn want to help others be also uplifted in whatever way might work best for them.] How do Christians know and experience Grace?

[Well, that's a big part of the tricky part. They "know" it because God has extended that knowledge to them. What makes it tricky, though, is that (in one way or another—which introduces a whole other layer of tricky), you have to ask for grace. If you don't explicitly ask for God's salvation—if you don't seriously, balls-out humble yourself that way—then you're on your own: then, out of respect for your sacrosanct will, God will in that sense keep his distance from you, because who goes to a party to which they haven't been invited? So that puts any of us in a really tricky position, because nobody likes the idea that they have to ask for anything at all—much less for what feels like (but isn't: layers!) their own self-worth. It's that asking to which you referred when you compared the bestowal of grace to Twist requesting more food; that's what you meant when you said that you dislike undeserved kindness. You meant that you don't like the idea that you have to ask for God's grace. Because ... because we all have that pride, that conviction that we can do it all ourselves. And we can! Almost. And it's in that almost that the compelling dynamic of Christianity lies.]

Is it Grace that makes Christ real to them? [Yes, because Christ is the means by which God made as clear as possible the truth that we don't have to sweat life the way we do, that everything—everything—is going to be all right.]

Print Friendly

About John Shore

John Shore (who, fwiw, is straight) is the author of UNFAIR: Christians and the LGBT Question, and three other great books. He is founder of Unfundamentalist Christians (on Facebook here), and executive editor of the Unfundamentalist Christians group blog.  (In total John's two blogs receive some 250,000 views per month.) John is also co-founder of The NALT Christians Project, which was written about by TIME,  The Washington Post, and others. His website is JohnShore.com. John is a pastor ordained by The Progressive Christian Alliance. You're invited to like John's Facebook page. And don't forget to sign up for his mucho awesome monthly newsletter.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Chris-Jones/50402231 Chris Jones via Facebook

    Thanks, John. I think I needed to hear this one, along with my dream of the afterlife last night.

  • http://andhup.wordpress.com/ Leslie

    Lovely! Now if only grace could deliver me some crunchy colorful marshmallows. ;-)

    • Donald Rappe

      I am trying to visualize (or possibly oralize) crunchy colorful marshmallows. My favorites are white and very very soft. They melt in hot chocolate and sweeten it. I have seen some with artificial coloring, but they don’t really attract me. My mother was an ace at toasting them over a flame until they were brown , but not black. The aramel flavor was delicious, but only the tiniest amount of crunch. Oh, does this have something to do with the commercial candy breakfast food which my daughter never gets for her children?

      • Leslie

        Yes. I was referring to the cereal displayed prominently at the top of the page. I happen to like it!

  • Lee

    Hi, John. Another great column. I usually just lurk and repost – often because I don’t think I have anything to add to the conversation that hasn’t already been said (what a good bunch of commenters you have!), I enjoyed hearing you talking about humbling yourself enough to ask for help. It reminds me of how alcoholics and addicts are asked to acknowledge a higher power in recovery. Sometimes people ask me why you need to believe in a higher power, and I often say it is because you need to accept that you yourself are not God (or the highest power in the universe). I know lots of sober people who have problems with that.

  • Jill H

    So yeah I definitely equated my (lack of) self-worth with the undeserved- kindness-of-God concept. Sucks when you’re led to believe that you’re not worthy of love so you crawl for scraps. That’s what my Christian prayers were about back in the day. Yuck. That’s the dark side of the ego thing for me that I internalized as part of the Christian teaching I’m trying to remove.

    Humility to the point of self-denial. Work to do..

    At one time I usurped all my power and shoved it at God, but later I put on my big girl pants and took all that power away from him. Now… I’m somewhere in between…

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

      It’s not about humility to the point of self-denial. It’s just about appreciating what you can and can’t, in and of yourself, do and know. It’s about honing your understanding of yourself.

      • Jill H

        Yes, that. I’ve once read it referred to as ‘reverse pride’. The idea that humility getting confused with self-denial, -doubt, even -loathing is the opposite side of the prideful coin– both being extremes to avoid. In essence we end up saying to the Creator, “no, I know better than you that I’m worthless. You don’t know me at all.”

        I understand it in my head but I haven’t got it solidly elsewhere just yet. I’ll be rereading this one for a while.

  • Tim

    Amen

  • http://pathux.wordpress.com/ Pat

    The best definition of grace is “the divine influence on the heart”. It is a gift, it is unearned but not undeserved. We have misunderstood the idea of ‘unmerited favor’. Grace comes with the territory of belief. Believe God, and Jesus, and you get salvation and grace and the Holy Spirit. What a package!

    When grace teaches us godliness (ref Galatians chapter 5) our lives will look less like that grotesque list of fleshly works, and more like the fruit of the spirit. And then there is love, the kind found in the love chapter….1 Corinthians chapter 13.

    It’s really that simple. When you see it, you will have joy and peace and love. Seriously. No strings. Nothing to do to earn it. Just accept it at true. Through Christ, we are most loved and deserving. He is our Father and we are his beloved children.

    Those of us us who have gotten the grace message find we really do feel like we are flying. God is so good.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

      Beautifully said. Thank you, Pat.

  • Donald Rappe

    I like Paul Tillich’s intentionally paradoxical statement that grace is God’s acceptance of us even though we are unacceptable. As John says, if we hone a good understanding of ourselves, we receive it better.

    “to all who receive him, to those who have yielded him their allegiance, he gave the right to become children of God, not born of any human stock, or by the fleshly desire of a human father, but the offspring of God’s self. Even so, the Word became flesh, came to dwell among us and we saw the glory, such glory as befits the Father’s only Scion, full of grace and truth.” Season’s greetings!

    • Donald Rappe

      I messed with the passage from John a little so others could see it through my eyes.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

      Great quote, Donald. Thanks for it.

  • Hannah Grace

    If we don’t get grace unless we ask for it, does that mean people who don’t ask for it go to hell? Or is it that we don’t need grace in order to be welcomed home to the arms of God after we die?

    • Hannah Grace

      (quick clarification: I personally believe grace is working in a lot of people who didn’t explicitly ask for it, even if they don’t recognize it. And that God welcomes everyone into heaven through the grace of Christ on the cross, which is also open to those who don’t ask. Maybe we shouldn’t argue about disputable matters…but if you thought that then you wouldn’t have taken a stance on it all in the first place, so just interested to know what you think)

  • David S

    Two quick comments.

    1. I truly appreciate that the letter writer used the word “myriad” correctly. Mignon Fogarty would be pleased (not to mention grammar nazi Ms. Fullerton ;-) ).

    2. (…actually relevant to the conversation) Grace is not only something we receive from a loving and merciful God, it is also something we can choose to show others. So much public discourse is completely devoid of grace. We are often self-righteous and quick to judge. I would hope that Christians would seek to show grace to others (as we have been shown grace from God). Sadly, that’s often not the case.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

      David: I HAD a comment about how nice it was to see “myriad” used properly! I ended up cutting it for whatever reason, but I thought the exact same thing!

  • Grant

    Oh my, oh my, 0h my. You made me spit out my coffee Mr. John Shore.

    “Balls out”? You actually wrote “balls out”.

    Does that really mean we need to do that to receive God’s grace? Guffaw. That leaves out half the population.

    Had to laugh about those two words (among man) in this post.

    Your humble admirer,

    Grant

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

      balls.

      • http://www.enesvy.com Nicole

        *snarffle*

  • http://readingseisho.wordpress.com friendly reader

    “What makes it tricky, though, is that (in one way or another—which introduces a whole other layer of tricky), you have to ask for grace. If you don’t explicitly ask for God’s salvation—if you don’t seriously, balls-out humble yourself that way—then you’re on your own: then, out of respect for your sacrosanct will, God will in that sense keep his distance from you, because who goes to a party to which they haven’t been invited?”

    So, in other words, in order to get this undeserved love, you have to be humble enough to deserve it?

    This is where I hit the wall on everyone who’s so keen on “free will” in the equation of salvation. Human will isn’t humble. In order to be humble enough to “ask,” you have to already have some measure of divine grace. “No one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit” ( 1 Cor. 12:3), after all.

    So yeah, grace comes without us asking, because without it, we wouldn’t be asking. Nor do I consider human will to always be “sacrosanct” (Merriam Webster: (1) most sacred or holy : inviolable (2) : treated as if holy : immune from criticism or violation), because most of the time, our will is aimed straight at our own selfish ends. (Humans don’t get to violate others’ will not because human will is inviolable, but because the flaws in their own wills make them very poor candidates for doing the violating)

    Fundamentally, I don’t want God to only give grace to people who ask it. I want him to give it to everyone. I want him to drag people. kicking and screaming, into his loving embrace, because once there they’ll realize they like it – that they’ve always wanted it. Otherwise, you’re leaving a lot of people out in the dark and the cold because you believe they should only get what they will for. That’s a lot of people.

    The best analogy for the disjoint between what I believe and what you believe is the Hindu one of the monkey verses the cat. We both believe God’s action saves us, but you believe, like baby monkeys, we have to hold on to God as he carries us. I believe God, like a mother cat, picks us up by the scruff of the neck and saves us whether we can humble ourselves or not.

    I think what you’re trying to avoid is the idea of double predestination that comes from the idea that God chooses people without their choice. I get that. Then just opt for single predestination – God predestines us ALL for salvation! He doesn’t leave anyone behind just because they’re too stubborn or prideful.

    And I know, I know, that begs the question of why God doesn’t have everyone believe in this life, make us all Christians, etc. etc. And I don’t have the answer to that; I’m willing to submit to the idea that God has bigger plans than I can perceive. But I much prefer that to demanding that everyone master their will on their own, without divine grace (I don’t believe that can happen), and thus condemning everyone who can’t to a life outside of God’s grace (which is not what the God I believe in would do).

    Note: I don’t expect you to agree with this perspective, but I dislike you painting all Christian thought on the subject with one big brush. There are other options – ones which I think work out to better results in the end.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

      You must be new here (and welcome!); if you knew my work better (and of course why should you?) you’d know how much more I have to say–and have said—about all of this sort of thing. But, alas, within the almost ridiculously limited form of a blog post, a broad brush is all one can use (though I flatter myself by thinking that I work that broad brush about as delicately as is possible). The short of it–as any trek throughout this blog or my books will tell you–is that you have no idea what I believe.

      • http://readingseisho.wordpress.org friendly reader

        I’m actually not that all that new, though I’ve mostly read your posts on LGBT issues. Yet to read any of your books, though. I figure you are a universalist, but the whole “you have to ask” thing…? I’m Lutheran. We don’t use language like that.

        And maybe that’s the problem – maybe we’re using the word “grace” differently. You seem to be separating God’s unconditional love from “grace,” and equating it entirely with salvation (by which you mean…?). In a Lutheran tradition, they’re one and the same. I may hate William James’ “The Varieties of Religious Experience” for a number of reasons, but I did like his observation that in Lutheran theology, the salvation experience isn’t one of going from unsaved to saved or from sinner to saint, but of realizing you’ve been saved – unconditionally loved and forgiven by God – the entire time.

        So I guess what I want to know is: what exactly do *you* mean by “grace” and “salvation” in this context? Why is it something you have to ask for separately from God’s unconditional love?

    • Lymis

      To use a horrendously simplistic metaphor, I see grace like light. It can be there, it can illuminate, it can suffuse the whole room, it can let you see things in new ways and keep you from tripping over the furniture – but if you have your eyes closed, you can’t experience it, and if you have a bag over your head, even opening your eyes isn’t going to help much.

      I don’t see it so much as that God only gives it to people who ask for it, so much as it is only experienced by people who open themselves to it.

      And like light, it isn’t a matter of dragging people kicking and screaming into the light, because that light is everywhere. The people with their eyes closed are already IN the light, and dragging them somewhere else isn’t going to put them somewhere with any more light. They still have to open their eyes.

      As far as monkeys and cats go, I don’t see it as either/or. God has infinite ways of getting our attention, and I honestly don’t believe those ways are limited to within our human lifetime. Maybe God shouts “Boo” at some of us or thwaps us upside the head to get us to open our eyes. Maybe God interacts with some people via sound rather than light.

      But God is patient and doesn’t force any of us to seek him.

      It’s not a matter of asking for it separately from asking for unconditional love. It’s a matter of opening yourself and allowing yourself to experience what it will subsequently turn out was there all along. God gives it to everyone. Not everyone lets themselves realize it.

      • Lymis

        And before you ask, I see Hell as the equivalent of someone sitting there with their eyes closed, their fingers in their ears, shouting “La, la, la, I can’t hear you!”

        I’ve always seen the parable of the Prodigal Son as how hell works – you’re in hell right up until you realize you don’t have to be and open your eyes. I don’t think God ever gives up on any of us.

        • http://readingseisho.wordpress.com friendly reader

          With *all* these analogies, I’m going to return to the main point of my first post: if it’s all left to human choice, with which God cannot interfere, some people will never be saved. You can say “God will be patient,” but if humans are absolutely free, what is stopping them from keeping their eyes shut or plug our ears or ignore God however they want their entire lives? The only way to get around that is to not consider free will inviolable – you have to subvert it somehow.

          And I *still* don’t see what is the distinction between God’s unconditional love and “salvation” that John Shore (can I call you John?) is talking about here. What are you asking *for*? God’s forgiveness? So he doesn’t forgive you if you don’t ask?

          And again, we’re back at “some people are going to be unsaved forever, and God just can’t help that.” That’s a conclusion I can’t accept.

          • Lymis

            Nothing stops people from keeping their eyes shut all their lives. Nothing keeps people from ignoring God. Five minutes with a newspaper should make that pretty clear.

            But I don’t think our opportunities to interact with God or with God’s salvation ends with our death.

            You’re objection seems to be based on what I consider to be a narrow and inaccurate view of what “being saved” means. I’m not sure how someone who believes in the rigid and simplistic ideas of the Fall, and the idea that the only way of avoiding an eternity of torment is by accepting a specific view of salvation would answer the question.

            But I don’t believe that, so I don’t have to answer it that way. Life is only part of the human experience.

            I think that it’s manifestly obvious that God doesn’t drag people kicking and screaming into unwilling communion with God. That being the case, obviously, something else is going on.

            If one assumes God isn’t a monumental jerk, a petty tyrant, an incredible bully, and the biggest hypocrite in the history of history, then it’s people’s pictures of what God’s up to that are flawed, not God’s plan. Obviously, what you feel are the givens about free will, damnation, and what God is allowed to do are wrong.

            But then, I’ve never assumed any human mind is big enough to contain or explain God, so that’s not an issue.

            There’s a reason the Greatest Commandment isn’t “Condemn thy neighbor as they condemn you.” Other people’s salvation isn’t my business. Loving them is.

          • http://readingseisho.wordpress.com friendly reader

            No, actually, what I’m trying to get at is that John seems to have a narrow view of “grace” – or rather a very different view from mine. Mine is that God loves and forgives us unconditionally, without us groveling, before we grovel. If our pride ever breaks, it’s because God has already showered us with love and bent our wills away from our selfish desires.

            John seems to have some separate meaning of grace and salvation, some token you have to ask God for in addition to his love.

            “I’m not sure how someone who believes in the rigid and simplistic ideas of the Fall, and the idea that the only way of avoiding an eternity of torment is by accepting a specific view of salvation would answer the question.”

            Oh yes, you know exactly what my ideas are about “the Fall.” OBVIOUSLY they are “rigid and simplistic.”

            Look, do I think human beings are naturally bent toward being selfish? Yes, yes I do. I look at the world and how we behave. I work with children, and I see how sociopathic they behave when they’re young. I look into MYSELF and I see how even my selfless moments have a drop of selfishness in them, an ounce of pride.

            Do I think this is because Adam and Eve ate an apple somewhere and passed on sin genetically? No. I think, largely, that it’s evolution. Self-preservation is an instinct. Do I think people are stuck that way forever? NO! I think we are gradually shaped every day by forces outside of ourselves into better people, and that one of the driving forces is the love of God.

            Maybe you look at good things that happen in the newspaper (I think that’s what you were trying to get at in the first sentence?) and see “oh, human nature is good! we can turn to God on our own!” I see God’s divine action prying its way into the universe in the everyday miracle of genuine selfless love.

            “I think that it’s manifestly obvious that God doesn’t drag people kicking and screaming into unwilling communion with God. That being the case, obviously, something else is going on.”

            How is it “manifestly obvious”? The Bible is FULL of stories of God choosing people who don’t want to be chosen. History is full of them. I know lots of people personally who would attest to this feeling as being a part of their own coming to love God.

            “But I don’t think our opportunities to interact with God or with God’s salvation ends with our death.”

            I don’t either. Where did you get the impression that I did? In fact, I think the final pull towards God almost HAS to happen AFTER we’re dead. But if you allow human will to remain completely free to do whatever it wants, then the potential for human stubbornness should remain post-death as well. I don’t see how that changes the equation. And that’s what I meant by “forever” – literally FOREVER.

            “If one assumes God isn’t a monumental jerk, a petty tyrant, an incredible bully, and the biggest hypocrite in the history of history, then it’s people’s pictures of what God’s up to that are flawed, not God’s plan. Obviously, what you feel are the givens about free will, damnation, and what God is allowed to do are wrong. ”

            God is a monumental jerk if he only offers love and salvation to the small few who are able to choke down their pride and beg from him.

            God is a petty tyrant if he demands that people, on their own, without his grace, beg and grovel for whatever “undeserved” love he wants to give them.

            God is a giant hypocrite if he says his love is undeserved and unconditional, yet sets up boundaries between us and him, obstacles for our receiving it.

            God is awful if he allows some people to be forever be apart from him simply because of their own stubbornness.

            Obviously, what you feel are the givens about free will, damnation, and what God is allowed to do are wrong. Obviously, what you feel are the givens about free will, damnation, and what God is allowed to do are wrong.

            “There’s a reason the Greatest Commandment isn’t “Condemn thy neighbor as they condemn you.” Other people’s salvation isn’t my business. Loving them is.”

            I don’t condemn people. Everyone is the same boat of being flawed yet utterly beloved by God, of needing his love and not being very good at asking for it without his help.

            And at the end of the day, no, I don’t why some people are able to come into communion with God in this life while some others will have to wait until later.

            In the meantime, having experienced God’s love for myself – love that does not demand that I beg and prove myself worthy of it – I do intend to do my utmost to love other people – without making them beg and prove themselves worthy of it. It won’t be easy, and I won’t always succeed. Because I’m not God.

            But I hope that someday that will be different: “all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.” (2 Cor. 3:18)

          • Lymis

            The central objection you seem to have is that “asking” for grace involves groveling, begging, humiliation and a fundamental sense of unworthiness.

            I don’t see that in anything John’s said. Those are one way to ask for something, certainly, but you can also ask from confidence, joy, security, and the awareness that being in a relationship based on love and connection involves the freedom to ask for things with the absolute confidence that they will be given in love by the One who loves you.

          • Lymis

            As far as the dragging to God, the fact that the Bible has a few stories of people who are recorded as being forced into various things by God is not the point I was making.

            Look around at the world. It IS manifestly obvious that the vast majority of people around you are NOT being dragged kicking and screaming into a relationship of love and grace and communion with God.

    • David S

      Friendly reader-

      I think we may be splitting theological hairs here. In the Presbyterian tradition we believe in predestination. That distinction may help us define the construct if God in our human brains, but it doesn’t change God. None of us really knows for sure how salvation works. For me, there’s no point wasting this life trying to figure it out; we’ll know the truth soon enough. Instead, I try to let God work in my life and live out my faith the best I can.

      For this broader conversation, suffice it to say that God loves us all unconditionally. Period. That is the grace of God.

      • http://readingseisho.wordpress.com friendly reader

        That’s how I view it, too – but I want to know what John Shore (really, are we allowed to call him John?) means when he says “ask for it.”

        To me, it sounds a lot like he’s implying you only get God’s grace – God’s love and forgiveness – *if* you humble yourself, etc., which is the opposite of “unconditional” and “undeserved.” Which is why I want to know what he means when he says “salvation” here, because it’s not theological hairs, I think it’s talking past each other. I’m confused and a little frustrated because I either don’t get what he’s trying to say or he’s being contradictory (for lack of a better word).

        We may never get absolute answers from God about salvation, but is it wrong to ask a person to clarify their personal opinion on the issue?

        • http://www.enesvy.com Nicole

          Yes, you can call him John.

    • textjunkie

      I really like that cat v. monkey metaphor!!

    • http://www.poesies.com Gina Cirelli

      “I want him to drag people. kicking and screaming, into his loving embrace, because once there they’ll realize they like it – that they’ve always wanted it.”

      I can only say that that’s what happened to me.

      • catrenn

        I think Michael Jackson must have been struck by lightening, John….just a little Grammar Paladin here…….

        But seriously. This whole question is one of the biggest paradoxes of the Christian theology. We are all already saved from before time, but you won’t know it unless you look, and God won’t take away your free will and make you look. I’m with Lymis on the definition of Hell. However….He definitely has ways of getting your attention. Even if it is only that He is infinitely patient, and you’ll get tired of not looking before He does.

        Undeserved? Well, either we’re not capable of being “good enough” to deserve grace, in which case the fault is ALSO not ours, and nobody deserves punishment either; or we are, in which case grace is a wonderful present that it just would have taken us a lot longer to save up for all by ourselves. If we wanted it.

        • catrenn

          sorry, I don’t know why this comment ended up here. It wsa meant to be a general one.

  • Carol B.

    To me, grace is both an undeserved gift and a spontaneous action of God. I was just commenting to someone that no matter how much crap gets thrown at me in this life, there seems to always be a catcher’s mitt in my hand….that catcher’s mitt, to me, is grace. …in the middle of depression, the laughter of a child, in the middle of despair, a wonderful work presented to me to do in God’s name, in the middle of raw sorrow, a balm in the form of another human being…a hug, a word or a smile…..

    • http://www.enesvy.com Nicole

      I love this.

  • Matt

    It can be very hard to open yourself up to grace precisely because it’s “undeserved.” We are so used to working for our places in the secular world–they don’t call it “earning a living” for nothing. It being a gift given regardless of our actions also takes it out of our power. We can’t influence it, it’s there whether we want it or not. That can be very, very scary (at least it was for me).

    Letter writer, one thing about how Christians out in the world deal with grace. Some Christians get really, really, REALLY hung up on the “undeserving” part, to the exclusion of all other parts. They take that as “humans must constantly feel awful about themselves, because they’ve been given this awesome gift they don’t deserve, how repulsive we must be.” I’m serious, I hear variations of this on the Christian talk radio that wakes me up in the morning. It can also be used to manipulate fellow Christians by reminding them how “small” they are. But the point of grace, I think, is to open people up to just how big they are. It says: “Yeah, you don’t deserve this, that is so. But I don’t care. I think you’re so amazing I’ll give it to you anyway. Anyway, let’s move on to what you can do, not what you can’t or don’t do.”

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

      Yes. Very well said. Thanks, Matt.

      • Matt

        Whew, thanks! Long 14-hour day today and some of my phrasing seems almost unreadable to me.

        • vj

          Made perfect (& wonderful) sense to me ;-)

    • Jill H

      Christianity, as I once experienced it, was where I felt small and insignificant. Undeserving. I have come to think that’s bullshit, and Christ does not want any of us to feel like they must prostrate themselves into dust to have God’s interest.

      I don’t believe in ‘undeserved’, honestly. You’re alive– you deserve. Nothing we do can earn the grace, salvation, whatever. But you deserve. I’m willing to be wrong on the subject, but there it is. I apologize that I may be more emotional than intended, but grace has to be how we find our brilliant awesomeness in the grand scheme of things or what the hell?

      I am open to humble understanding, I am open to being corrected. I am not open to feeling like you’re never good enough but tolerated anyway. This feels like a very long road for me.

      • Matt

        “I am not open to feeling like you’re never good enough but tolerated anyway.”

        Yup, that’s the very human interpretation I run into alot (perhaps a possible origin of “love the sinner, hate the sin?”). “Undeserving” just means you didn’t do anything to earn it–full stop. There’s no bad, wrong, or awful about it. But then true grace declares you enough, independent of deserving. It does a funny thing–it allows you to see two opposite views simultaneously. On the one hand, you are just a thread in a tapestry, so fragile you could be snuffed out without effort, and thus in need of grace. How wonderful that you have it! On the other hand, the grace says to you: “You are so beautiful, brilliant, and precious that I want to preserve you, even though you may turn away.” How wonderful it is to have you! The first perspective allows you to appreciate others. The second allows you to appreciate yourself. And they feed each other, so it’s just a beautiful loop of appreciation, love, and respect.

        Sounds very rainbows-and-butterflies, I know, but it sure works for me.

        • Jill H

          That was beautiful, Matt, and much needed to read after a long night. *tears* Thank you.

        • http://andhup.wordpress.com/ Leslie

          Bingo. Thanks!

        • vj

          Someone (it’s been a long time since I encountered it) explained grace as: God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense. To me, that means we get to live in the fullness of everything God wants us to be/have, because Jesus came to heal all the muck (guilt, shame, hurt, etc) that makes us feel small and miserable and powerless. So – ‘undeserved’ as in “you didn’t earn it for yourself”, not as in “you are worthless”.

      • http://www.enesvy.com Nicole

        Beautiful, Jill. Thank you!

    • David S

      Matt.

      I agree. Some Christians seem to think that the way to God is through self-flagellation (while chanting “I’m not worthy” with each lash of the whip). To me, that is contrary to the concept of grace. If God loves us just as we are, shouldn’t we love ourselves likewise?

      I’ve heard this self-debasing couched in concepts like “holiness” and “dying to ourselves” and “following the narrow road”. Not that those concepts are worthless, but there is a difference between the selflessness that naturally flows from faith and self-sacrifice as a human attempt at atonement.

      And, if some Christians engage in self-loathing (not accepting God’s grace), loving their neighbors as theirselves means seeing the unworthiness and failures of others. I don’t believe that’s what God intends.

  • textjunkie

    the Dickensian metaphor is an interesting one–of a small child begging from a big fat fellow who enjoys watching the kid beg for what should be given to him freely, enjoys that feeling of power and manipulation and humiliating the other person.

    Yeah. SO not grace.

    • Jill H

      Exactly. So separating out the human experience of conditional love from the real loving-kindness of God is what’s at issue, at least for me. When the message of grace gets mucked up by the messengers that dangle it like a carrot in front of your nose, that’s when I get mad. How do we get it so wrong sometimes?

    • http://www.poesies.com Gina Cirelli

      Thank you, Catholic Church, for that particular metaphor. I can so relate to the LW. :(

      And thank you, John, for the message of truth.

  • Lamont

    Grace: Getting something you don’t deserve.

    Mercy: Not Getting something you do deserve.

    “…you have to ask for grace.”

    You do?

    Grace is unmerited favor, so… if you don’t ask for it you don’t get grace?

    Every day that a God hating rebelious sinner (which could be your dear sweet loving granny) wakes up to pour milk on their “Lucky Charms” (They’re Magically Delicious) is God’s grace. He/she didn’t ask for it. It was free. That’s the nature of grace. It can’t be demanded. It is not deserved and it CAN be denied! God could (and does) just as easily send people straight to judgement. There’s no obligation on Gods part. We’re the ones that have transgressed! A believer can ask for the grace to persevere through a trial & etc. Mercy can be requested “God, mercy on me, a sinner!” (Luke 18:9-14).

    As an unbeliever I didn’t need grace. I was the law!

  • mike moore

    “everything is going to be alright.”

    Jesus, Bob Marley, and now, John Shore. You’re in the big leagues now time to switch over to Wheaties. Peace, brohammad.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore
      • mike moore

        John Shore, I have always thought very highly of you, but after reading “21 Things” I think you may actually be kind of a lower-case jesus. I mean that in the best possible way.

        I knew of some those things, but all not all of them … LOVE the way he handled his manager (I know, you never would’ve guessed that of me, shocker) and have a whole new respect for BMW.

        you’re an irie guy.

  • Brianna

    Let me be frank here. Ive dealt with Liberal Moderate and Fundie Christians and you know what? Im sick of the closed minded arrogance every one of you espouse. At first I was tolerant of the liberal christian movement, until I realized they also believe theyre going to heaven, and while they dont gloat about it like the fundies do, I find it rude and arrogant that most christians think this way. Furthermore, from my own experiences, you cant justify liberal christianity if the other sects are doing something wrong. A few drops of deadly bacteria can and does grow into something bad, especially in an ocean. I had to say something, because Im sick of being quiet. You believe what you want, and I can tell you to take your false spirituality and kiss it.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

      “You cant justify liberal christianity if the other sects are doing something wrong.”

      ???

    • http://www.enesvy.com Nicole

      Why does it matter to you what anyone else thinks, Brianna? Live your own life and don’t worry about it if it bothers you that much.

      • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

        Right? Thank you, Nicole.

    • Jill H

      I’m wondering why you felt the need to tell those of us who read and comment here this? Is this a lame drive-by or do you actually have a non-arrogant point about the arrogance you assume we collectively are espousing?

    • mike moore

      wait, this is fun.

      If I’m following you … I think I’m going heaven (well, probably not me, but hypothetically,) and I don’t talk about it, so that makes me rude and arrogant. Ok …..

      And … you can’t justify the beliefs of one sect of people if they share certain common beliefs with sects which are, in short, made up of dickheads?

      In other words, all Americans are as evil as those Americans who are involved in human trafficking, because we all pledge allegiance to the USA? No, Seriously, I really trying to follow the logic here.

      I do agree with ocean bit. Beginning with one little dot of alge smaller than your freckles, there is an algae bloom in the ocean which can be seen from space and is as large as Rhode Island (or Delaware? I’m super bad with geography.)

      • Jill H

        Leave it to you to make it both fun and educational! ;)

        • mike moore

          I’m like a human Sesame Street.

    • DR

      You sound bitter, filled with rage and completely miserable. I hope you get lots of therapy or whatever it’s going to take to move you into a place of peace. If people are living a belief that is helping them love others well and not hurting anyone, then you need to explain why it’s bad and you need to be specific. If you can’t, then that’s the first conversation to have with your therapist (it really helps).

    • Lymis

      This feels very Rorschach to me. The post is hard enough to understand that we’re forced to read a lot of things into it to comment on it.

      If I get the point, it’s that it’s rude and arrogant to claim that any one way is the only path to salvation, that only one understanding of salvation is the path to God, and that only one tradition is the right way of interacting with God, and that whether it’s warm and fuzzy and discreet or hard and bitter and in-your-face doesn’t matter if what you believe is that God Loves Me Best and everyone else is screwed.

      If that was the point, I’d agree with it if I thought that’s what people were doing. And, honestly, some liberal Christians are, but it’s not the point, or else I’ve been missing a lot.

      You can’t justify claiming that fundamentalists are wrong purely for having a limited, elitist and exclusionary view of God, if you yourself have one, any more than you can justify complaining about someone’s racism as racism if you simply see a different race as the one that should be on top with all the power.

      But a lot of people aren’t simply substituting a fluffy and polite exclusionary religious view for an outspoken one.

      I personally think that there are many paths to God – including, rigid fundamentalist Christianity. My issues with narrow and exclusionary, bigoted and bitter views of Christianity aren’t that they tick God off, but that they don’t work to make the followers happier, more loving, or more able to love and interact with other people. What God does with those people is between them and God, and frankly none of my business, and I fervently hope they’re working out something wonderful together, even if that involves some recalibrating after death.

      My view of Christianity isn’t that it’s the only path to God, or the only channel of God’s love and grace to humanity. It’s the one I know and for the most part, the one that speaks best to me – so it is MY path to and from God.

      Other people have different paths, and that’s fine with me.

  • Linnea

    I come at the question of grace differently. I was raised (and have returned to being) United Methodist. The founder of our church, John Wesley, talked about “prevenient grace”, a fifty-dollar theological term that means that God’s grace is already ours. Pretty radical, actually. Where I part company with Christian tradition is the idea that we still have to somehow “accept” that grace to be acceptable to God. My congregation goes further than Wesley: we hold that God’s grace is just a fact of life; you can’t “accept” it, nor can you “reject” it. We are already loved and accepted by God. When you think about it, if grace is dependent on us doing *anything*, including believing a certain way, it’s no longer grace.

  • textjunkie

    Darn it John, you made me think about grace quite a bit yesterday! I remembered a friend of mine explaining that GRACE stood for “God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense”, and how at the time, where I was at the time, that made sense and was actually very comforting; whereas now, I find it a little nauseating, because I’m at a different place vis a vis God and Christ and atonement and the whole shebang.

    Which made me figure that there is no single definition of grace that works for everyone- Some definitions/explanations will fit for some people at some points in their lives, and not at all for others. Where I’m at now, grace is not a thing, it’s a process; it’s a characteristic or attribute, like generosity or justice; it’s a multi-splendored thing that I will spend the rest of my life coming to grips with, understanding different aspects of it. Another friend of mine commented that the spiritual walk is more like walking one of those labyrinths–it’s not a straight line, and sometimes you seem farther or closer to the center and it’s really hard to tell. And your view of what’s at the center–God and grace and mercy and compassion and all that–is going to change dynamically depending on where you’re at. All you can do is integrate the different views over time and hope you’re getting a better picture as you go.

    Or at least, I think so. :)

    Thanks for cracking that open and making me look at it. Nothing like being forced to handle theological space-time complexity before breakfast. :)

  • Jill

    I *love* this conversation. Oh it still means so much to me.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X