Grace Unbalanced

canstockphoto3567006Something interesting happens whenever I talk about grace, forgiveness, and acceptance.

People push back. As much as we like those things, as much as we need those things, as much as we realize that they are central to our faith as Christians, we seem to want to qualify them.

To put an asterisk by them.

Part of it is that we feel that in giving people grace, forgiveness, and acceptance we are somehow excusing their bad behavior, and that by excusing it we are perpetuating it.

People need to know that their bad behavior is bad.

But grace doesn’t excuse anything. (From here to the end I’m going fold grace, forgiveness and acceptance into one word, “grace” so that I don’t have to keep writing it all out.)

Grace isn’t ignoring bad behavior, it’s dealing openly with it without condemning the other person.

It’s recognizing that the people we are in relationship with are flawed, hurting, broken, and sinful, and deciding to be in relationship with them anyway.

Grace is about valuing the relationship more than the need to protect ourselves or to fix the other person.

So that’s part of the pushback.

But I don’t think it’s the main thing. I think there’s something else.

We really don’t like it when other people get away with things.

There is something there that just really offends us. Our sense of justice is violated.

That’s the pushback I hear more than anything, that grace needs to be balanced by justice. And by justice we mean “just desserts.” (The actual phrase is “just deserts,” but nobody says it like that anymore. “Just desserts” doesn’t really make any sense, however, except as the name of a really good bakery.)

As Christians, we don’t always feel that people need to get all of their just desserts, but at least enough to deter them from doing it again.

We’re not opposed to mercy, someone getting less of what they deserve.

We’re just not comfortable with grace, getting none of what they deserve.

So let’s be clear: none of us get what we deserve, not from God.

Not.

Even.

Close.

There may be natural consequences to our bad behavior, and sometimes those consequences are severe, but that’s different from God singling us out and nailing us out of his anger or some sense of justice.

God isn’t beholden to any human sense of justice or even some aspect of his nature that requires that all sin be paid for.

God forgives what he wants, he forgives who he wants, he forgives when he wants, and he forgives to whatever extent he wants.

Or not. His choice.

That’s what it means to say that God is all-powerful.

And all-loving. And God is not under any compulsion to balance his love with anything, especially our sense of justice.

We need to learn that God’s sense of justice is all that matters, and for him justice isn’t about punishment, “just desserts,” or payback.

Justice is when relationships are restored and people are transformed.

It’s not punishment that transforms a person, not in any long-term positive way. Neither is it condemnation or scorn or shame.

These things don’t transform, they deform.

It’s grace that transforms. Forgiveness. Acceptance.

Unconditional love.

Emphasis on the “un” part.

When we understand this, we see that justice is not something that God holds in balance over against his love; it’s an expression of his love.

Like when a parent receives home a wayward child. Or when a child receives home a wayward parent.

When an open door is followed by open arms, the past isn’t changed, it is rendered powerless to destroy.

But future possibilities for life and for love are transformed, enlarged, and made almost limitless.

None of us get what we deserve.

We should be glad.

Photo by © Can Stock Photo Inc. / barneyboogles

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