Earlier this year I read Gilead by Marilynne Robinson, and I'm currently in the middle of reading Home.
Grace permeates these stories, steeped in faith, family and the personal history that shapes us. In many ways they are so gentle and yet they ache with the pain of living. The prodigal story at the centre of both books is poignant because the father(s) are so ill equipped for the gracious celebratory return (despite being deeply faithful men). And then the home-coming son is too awkward and lost to accept being loved and forgiven. I could go on about these books for a while, but that is not my point today.
Today I am thinking of how hard grace really is. The father of the prodigal son makes it seem so effortless, but there are times when to be graceful costs us deeply. Bonhoeffer made a distinction between cheap grace and costly grace - intimating that we can take grace too lightly and forget the pain and loss that makes grace possible.
We can only live out grace when God's spirit empowers us. Grace to people who have hurt us, or to people we cannot understand, is hard. Grace to those who do not want it or know how to accept it is costly.
God said an interesting thing to Ezekiel, so many years ago...
"As for you, son of man, your countrymen are talking together about you by the walls and at the doors of the houses, saying to each other, 'Come and hear the message that has come from the LORD.'
My people come to you, as they usually do, and sit before you to listen to your words, but they do not put them into practice. With their mouths they express devotion, but their hearts are greedy for unjust gain.
Indeed, to them you are nothing more than one who sings love songs with a beautiful voice and plays an instrument well, for they hear your words but do not put them into practice."Ezekiel 33:30-32.
The Jews of Ezekiel's time still wanted to come and hear the word of God, despite no longer following God's law. They saw themselves as his people, but God is clear that they were fooling themselves. They just wanted to admire the beauty of God's word, like a piece of art. They wanted a clear separation between their lives and the call to repentance. Flattery and admiration allowed them to disconnect and refuse entry to God in their lives.
I am challenged that admiration for the beauty of grace is easy. I can stand back and listen, look, and even applaud it. But it is harder to live it out, to get mucky and sweaty and stained being gracious.
And yet it is by living grace, rather than just admiring it, that transformation comes.
There is always a tension between conviction of sin and the realisation of abundant grace. It is a balancing of servanthood and freedom, the choice to follow and the irresistible drawing of the spirit. When we feel the cost of grace in our own bones, then can we really see how freely and lavishly it is given to us.
I am thankful for the beauty God gives us in many different places and things.Thankful for senses that enable beauty delight us.Thankful for being able to live it as well as admire it.