By Dan Wilson
An agnostic friend of mine, Dave, once asked me what was the meaning of grace that Christians talk about. His concept of grace was “niceness” or a smooth, delicate way of moving or dancing. He was intrigued by the notion of grace from God. He understood sin, but was amazed at the thought that sins were forgiven by God’s grace. Just what then was this thing called grace?
Deep down inside, I don’t think Dave really was agnostic. Many years before, a bad experience had turned him away from church. Misunderstanding Christian people in his church told him and his wife their sins were the reason for the life-threatening cancer his young daughter was battling. He decided he couldn’t believe in a God who would punish his child for his sin. I can’t blame him. I couldn’t either. So Dave wondered if it was possible that God was not a God of anger and revenge, but rather a God of love and grace.
I told Dave the standard definition of grace, God’s unconditional, unmerited love. Love so great there is nothing we could ever do to cause God to love us less. And that it was through this unmerited love or favor from God called grace that God forgives our sins. I told Dave that God is a God of love and grace, not a God that punishes children for the sin of their parents. With the advent of Jesus Christ, that ancient Hebrew understanding of God gave way to a new revelation of God as a God of love and grace.
Dave looked at me and asked, “Well, if there is such a thing as grace, how does it work?” I used an analogy of sins and traffic tickets to explain it to him.
Let’s assume you are a pretty good person. In fact you are so good you only sin once a day. Just one time a day do you get mad or angry at a neighbor. Neglect a hungry person on the corner. Just once do you yell and curse at the person driving slowly in traffic in front of you. Just once do you take God’s name in vain, or covet your neighbor’s new car or wide screen TV. Just one time per day. Lord knows in our world today just one sin a day can be a pretty small number.
Being a good person, at one sin per day, during 75 years you would only sin 27,375 times! And yet each time you ask God for forgiveness, through God’s grace, your sins are forgiven. When you stand at the pearly gates, there is nothing on your slate. Rather, there is no slate, God has thrown it away. That isn’t a license to sin. It is a gift of love and grace that overcomes sin.
Now let’s assume you are driving along a road going to church and you get stopped by a policeman for speeding. You are really sorry and go before the judge asking her to forgive your ticket. You admit your guilt and plead you were late for church and didn’t notice that you were speeding.
The judge feels compassion and says she has a mind to let you off, but first wants to check your record. She pulls up your record on the computer and there it is, 27,375 speeding tickets. What do you think your chances will be?
God’s grace is God’s self-communication of God’s love for all people – love that is like a giant eraser, erasing our sins each time we ask God for forgiveness. Grace is something we don’t deserve and yet it is God’s delight to freely give. What a comforting gift to receive from your God who is radically in love with you. A love so radical that God chose suffering and death on a cross to assure your salvation. May God’s gift of grace give you peace.