When Grace Troubles Us More Than It Amazes Us
Recently, as I was reading from the book of Isaiah, I was taken aback by the extent to which the grace of God will reach. I was reminded, as I sometimes am, that grace is not only for “the lost,” as some say.
The grace that comes through faith and repentance is also available for people who are downright evil.
The section I was reading in Isaiah was from chapter 19, first written to ancient Jewish people.
…the Egyptians will worship with the Assyrians…whom the LORD of hosts has blessed, saying, ‘Blessed be Egypt my people, and Assyria the work of my hands, and Israel my inheritance’ (Isaiah 19:23-24).
In the ancient Israelites’ experience, both the Egyptians and the Assyrians represented oppression, violence, and abuse. They represented the very worst of humanity as well as a clear and present reminder that evil resides in the human heart (Genesis 6:5). Egyptians and Assyrians were marauders, kidnappers, sex offenders and slave-drivers. They were users and abusers, less like humans and more like monsters, less like people and more like things.
As I read from Isaiah, I thought to myself that Jesus came to save his worst enemies…and he also came to save (gulp) our worst enemies. People we despise. People who have hurt us. People who have hurt those we love. People who have done terrible things. All are candidates for the grace, mercy, forgiveness, and redemption of God.
Several years ago I was pastor for a church in Kansas City. After one of the services, a man approached me and asked if there was a place for people like him at our church. “What do you mean, people like you?” I asked. He went on to tell me of some shocking, unimaginable things that he had done. So shocking and unimaginable that it reminded me of the time Corrie Ten Boom was approached after giving a talk on God’s forgiveness by a man she recognized immediately, because he had served as a Nazi guard in the prison camp where she and her sister had been held during the Holocaust. He told her that he had since become a Christian, and asked her if she believed that her message on forgiveness applied to someone like him.
Remembering the truth about the expansiveness of God’s grace, I answered the man’s question in the same way Corrie answered the former Nazi guard, and in the only way that Scripture allows me to answer. “Yes, through the grace and forgiveness of Christ there can a place for you here.”
I walked away feeling how utterly scandalous the grace of our God truly must be.
There are many others. The grace of God also reached Karla Faye Tucker, and ax murderer. After being executed on death row for her crimes, she woke up in the presence of Jesus.
The grace of God reached King David–also a sex offender and murderer–out of whose family line Jesus came into the world, and from whose prayers we have been given most of the Psalms.
The grace of God reached Saul of Tarsus–a self-professed blasphemer, persecutor, and violent man–who made a career out of hunting down Christians and destroying them as the Egyptians and Assyrians had once done to the Jews–and who would later call himself “the chief of sinners,” Exhibit A for how far God in his grace is willing to reach.
The grace of God reached Jeffrey Dahmer, a sociopath and serial killer, who professed faith in Christ while on death row.
The grace of God reached Sufjan Stevens, the Brooklyn musician who wrote these lyrics about John Wayne Gacy, Jr., another serial killer who stored the corpses of his victims beneath the floorboards in his house:
And in my best behavior,
I am really just like him.
Look beneath the floorboards
To the secrets I have hid.
Grace is indeed amazing. But it is the furthest thing from comfortable. And sometimes it is the furthest thing from comforting. In being amazing, extensive, and expansive, grace is also shocking and scandalous and downright offensive.
It’s freely available to us, but there is more…
It’s also freely available to them.
I have to admit that grace really bothers me sometimes. Does it bother you? Do we really want it? Can we handle it? Can we bear it? Can we stomach it?
And yet, without it, where would we be?