The Problem With Grace

Grace is tricky. Particularly Divine Grace. It is a gift of mercy and love given by God because of God’s own goodness, not because of the particular merit or worth of the person who receives it.

I remember the moment (and it was a particular moment in time) when I understood that God’s love, mercy, and salvation had already been offered to me and that I did not, and I could not, “earn” it. I was sitting in my church. In 1989. I was looking at the cross on the wall as I pondered my life. I was thinking, “God, I love you. But I’m a mess. I’m never going to be good enough for you. I just can’t do it.

And I wanted to be good enough. And I had tried to be good enough. And boy howdy, had I had failed.

I’ve not had many theophanies, but I had one that day. In my head, I heard a voice say, “you’re right. You can’t do it. I don’t expect you to be perfect. I expect you to be you. You already have the grace you need.”

Before that, I always thought grace was for other people and that I needed to just be a “good girl” so God wouldn’t need to worry about me and could focus on the people who really needed it. You know, like murderers and the people who park their cars like this:

And that day sitting in church, hearing that voice in my head, I realized, “oh….we all need grace.”

It is almost embarrassing for me to admit that now. It seems so obvious. Of course we all need grace.

But I look at the world and realize we still have a grace problem. We want it extended to the people who validate our thinking. We want it withheld from our opponents. We claim it for ourselves, but then live as if we don’t believe God could really have meant to include us in the gift. We deny it to others, afraid of who might need to be included in the family of God.

In the news this week, someone from a “reality” TV show I’ve never watched (because I don’t have time to worry about a family who thinks having 19 children is a good idea) admitted that when he was a teenager, he molested a number of other kids, including some of his sisters.

And this is a horrible thing.

I pray for his victims, and other people who are victims of sexual abuse. Have they received actual help? Apparently there was “Christian counseling” by a non-licensed person. Do these young women know they did nothing to deserve the abuse they received? Are they able, while being raised in a fundamentalist, patriarchal world to understand that they have innate worth and value as children of God that has nothing to do with the “purity culture” of that sect of Christianity?

I also pray for him. He was a kid in a family with very different (I’m trying to be generous here) views of sex, relationships, gender roles, and faith. Who was there to give him good advice about how to appropriately explore his own sexual feelings when the official answer about sex was something to the effect of “it is horrible. it is a terrible sin before marriage, but once you’re married, you should have a lot of it”. (Here’s an article that speaks to what they taught their children. Note–don’t teach this to your children.)

The blogosphere is on fire with articles about this situation. And they all make me feel icky. Some people, like former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee have been publicly supportive of their friends, which is fine, I suppose. Once you get past the very real hypocrisy of the situation. When we can’t extend Christian kindness and hospitality to gay people who want a wedding cake, it seems surprising when it is so quickly extended to people who confess to abusing their own sisters.

Grace is tricky.

Many of the articles about this situation have been soaking in schadenfreude. People who have found such delight and pleasure in the brokenness and sadness of a family that is so easy to dislike and mock.

But grace does not leave room for schadenfreude.

We can’t accept grace for ourselves and deny it to our ideological opponents. We can’t celebrate while other families burn. We can’t continue to extend such a narrow definition of grace that a child molester can receive it but a faithful gay or lesbian person cannot.

Grace is grace is grace.


And it comes from God and not from us.

We can only try to live into the grace we have received with humility and without being jerks. Let’s work on that, shall we?


3 thoughts on “The Problem With Grace

  1. re: “good people doing bad things,” I wonder what Huckabee thinks of Matthew 7:20. Bye the bye. But yeah, this is one of the most mind-blowing implications of the Gospels to me and probably to the average human, that grace is extended for reasons we don’t and can’t understand. Everyone wants someone they think is a “good person” to be the recipient of grace but it’s really hard, potentially impossible for some of us, to wish that for (and give it to) those whom we revile. It would involve letting go of our emotional reactions to things to an extreme degree, I think, at least in the short term.


    • Yes. While i think Gov. Huckabee is correct to speak of redemption and grace for Duggar, I still have real concerns about the “we’ve prayed about it and things are fine” undercurrent of the whole narrative. Are any of these kids getting help? Has anything changed in their theology/belief system to keep something like this from happening to someone else?


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