I’ve been thinking about sin and GRACE a lot this week. In particular, how grace covers me and how I extend it to others. A careless, hurtful word; a professional misstep; a neglect of a child’s or spouse’s heart; a foray into an inappropriate relationship; idleness and the character of complaint–whatever the sin, it always leaves wreckage behind in the hearts and lives of ourselves and others.
As if to underscore my need to ponder this holy dance between sin and grace, I had a dream. It was one of those dreams in which I made an irrevocable choice, whose consequences were deep and slashing. On the other side of that choice, I was left to either pick up the scattered pieces and count on mercy, or walk away- from the situation, from God. Which choice I made depended upon a forgiving heart of one person and those battered by the fallout.
From the other side of sin, grace and mercy look quite different.
The Hebrew word for grace is chen, meaning favour or acceptance. The New Testament word is charis, among whose meaning is merciful kindness.
When all is right, and I make right choices, I am buoyed forth by grace and mercy. In fact, I may even take them for granted. Like the Israelites, so confident of their place in God’s heart, I can brush aside grace and mercy as “givens” and neglect to live a reflective life that claims them each day by humility and sacrifices of the heart. When I stray, and find myself on the other side of grace, my feet can become leaden. I see God’s grace in others, I hear of His deep mercy in His word, but I can be afraid to grasp its corner and cover myself. Sometimes I need help to find that corner and pull it over me. And if no one is there, how will I ever move forward out of the mire and the consequences of my actions?
This makes me think of how I respond to others who have stepped outside of right living, who have stumbled. How do I respond to others whose sins are more public than mine, which stay comfortably shadowed in my heart, obscured from others’ view? What if they need help finding the corner of God’s grace and mercy? Will I stand by, observing the tentative groping, or will I allow myself to be God’s hand of love and forgiveness, embracing their efforts and applauding each success? When the corner flutters out of reach, again and again, will I watch them grow cold and distant, or will I extend love and encouragement over and over, helping them hold on to God’s mantle of grace?
As a church, we’re not good at this, I think. Finding that line between standing firm on God’s truth about sin, and helping each other in our floundering is tough for us. Are we ready to fully accept into the fold a repentant brother or sister, even with all their unfinished business? Once they have come, like the prodigal son, “to their senses”, at least partially, do we encourage, and accept each wobbly step toward healing, or do we stand aside, coldly waiting for them to be “finished.” I think we often remove ourselves from the situation out of confusion, or ignorance–a tentativeness about what God would have us do. We’re so afraid of making a mistake, and not standing firm in His word, that we can forget to also to be open to how God may use us to gently nudge a heart back to Him. I want to be better at this. Better at helping others find their way back.
“But when he came to himself …he arose and came to his father. But while he was yet at a distance, his father saw him and had compassion on him, and ran and embraced him and kissed him.” Luke 15: 17-20
“Take heed to yourselves; if your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him; and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, and says, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.” Luke 17:3,4
“He stood up and said to them, ‘Let him who is without sin among be the first to throw a stone at her…Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”’She said, ‘No one, Lord.’ And Jesus said, ‘Neither do I condemn you; go and do not sin again.’ John 8:7-11