Grace, for one definition at least, is the state of your heart when you forgive, when you strive to understand and when you ‘cut some slack’ to another person. You acknowledge, that no one is perfect, and we extend to them what we would hope others would do for us.
‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you’ is the scriptural passage that covers this idea. None of us is perfect. We all sin and fall short of expectations – God’s, our parents, our friends, and even our own.
Very often, we think in terms of what we and others ‘deserve.’ We judge our entitlements liberally, while being stricter with others, particularly those who are ‘different’ from us or at least who we don’t know personally.
We judge the mistakes and sins of others. We determine for ourselves whether there was intention or foolishness at the root. We think about their influences and motivations and what they stood to gain from their deeds. Everyone has an opinion on the most notorious crime trials, both in terms of guilt (or innocence) and in terms of appropriate punishment. We reassure ourselves that we are not like ‘them.’
With people’s natural tendency to gossip and speculate about other people and events, and with a news media whose motto is often, ‘if it bleeds, it leads,’ it is challenging for us to maintain an attitude of grace, and even harder to try to convince others to cultivate and maintain one.
Suggest, for example, that maybe O.J. Simpson didn’t kill his ex-wife and you are likely, in some circles, to be branded a sucker, or a celebrity apologist or some dope who doesn’t know what’s going on. Most of us don’t know O.J. Simpson personally. Even fewer knew his ex-wife. We weren’t there when she died. A lot of evidence points to her ex-husband, but we can’t be certain.
This is a hard exercise, but try it – imagine that you are O.J. Simpson. Imagine that you are, in fact, innocent. That everything you said you did that night was true. But the police fixate on you. The only investigation ongoing is how they are going to prove that you did it.
What is going through your mind? Maybe you still loved her and you are struck by grief that she is dead. Maybe you have an idea what happened and you are angry that you failed to stop it. Maybe you are worried about your kids, who were sleeping upstairs while the murders took place. Maybe you worry about your aging mother. Maybe you worry that all of your power, wealth, popularity and fame will be lost because they will successfully blame you.
And you know that, in fact, you did not kill her.
Imagine the fear. Feel the humiliation. Sense the desperation.
If you seriously considered all of the possibilities above, you have just engaged in empathy and with it, grace. If you just weren’t able to do it, it’s okay. Most people, if they are honest, can’t do it. Grace can be hard to manage. Because we think we know.
Although we are supposed to love, and not judge, other people, many of us can’t stop playing God, and trying to do His job for Him. We are impatient with situations where ‘bad’ people ‘get away’ with doing things and fail to get what they ‘deserve.’ Maybe God doesn’t care, or He isn’t paying attention or He’s letting Satan win one.
This lack of patience on our part exposes a lack of trust in a loving God, all-knowing and all-powerful, and in complete control on His timetable and for His purposes. In His time and in His way, he will settle up with everyone, holding them accountable for all they did, said and even thought, both good and bad.
A lack of grace also displays a failure to recognize our own imperfection, suggesting that someone else’s failings are worse than, more punishable than, less acceptable than, our own.
‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you’ is what God wants from us. If we do this, then we don’t judge others, we try to help one another. We don’t condemn and we don’t seek to punish. We don’t revel in the humiliation, failure or exposure of other people. Because we don’t decide what anyone ‘deserves.’
This doesn’t mean we’re accepting of violence or crime or immorality or hypocrisy or any of a thousand other flavors of evil. But it does mean we accept, and that we love, the sinner, because in the fact that they are a sinner, they are like us.
We all need grace, kindness, love, forgiveness and understanding.
God bless you.