I have spent much of the last about year wrestling with a seemingly-simple question: what is grace?
Growing up in a Protestant Church, grace was usually defined to me as receiving something we didn’t deserve. In other words, grace was generally explained to me as the loophole that the legal God has given through his own legal system. In order for this definition of grace to make sense, we have to assume that the universe operates on a legal framework: people, at least in general, get what they deserve, the good their rewards and the bad their punishments. But then we add that it is really only the perfect that get rewards; otherwise, there would be a category of “good enough” who still didn’t need grace. Since nobody is perfect, though, we all need this loophole system. It was quite internally coherent and with the right Graeco-Roman assumptions, the right modernist Lutheran/Calvinist assumptions, it seemed completely obvious. That understanding of grace was even beautiful in its own way for a long time: God was pretty amazing to me to give me that loophole!
But I had too many questions about this type of grace that continued to nag at me until I realized that I was thinking too small.
What if God isn’t the legalistic one? What if when we talk about Satan, literally meaning Accuser, we aren’t ascribing a trait to him that we really believe is central to God’s character?
Why is God so schizophrenic, having this retributive trait needing to satisfied but also going ahead and giving a loophole around it? Wouldn’t it make more sense to just scrap the whole system if that wasn’t what he wanted anyway? Or in some formulations, doesn’t it mess with the idea of the Trinity and of incarnation if one part of the Trinity can provide the loophole that another part demands?
What if God has always loved us and didn’t need a loophole?
I have come to believe that grace is far bigger than what I ever imagined: a complete blowing up of the entire judgement framework which was never God’s idea in the first place. Maybe that’s even why he told us not to eat of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Maybe he knew that it would lead to us putting up these barriers, barriers that are so ingrained that he had to become one of us and die a horrible death to prove that he was not interested in playing our judgement games. Grace ruins the entire fundamental framework in which humanity operates and replaces it with something far better.
Amazing grace, how sweet the sound.