Last week, Jerry Sandusky, a former Penn State assistant football coach, was found guilty on 45 of 48 charges of sexual abuse against young boys. The story is devastating and tragic, both for those who believed in Sandusky and for the victims who are left to pick up the pieces. As I perused Facebook and Twitter after the verdict was issued, I noticed various comments saying things like “he deserves worse than jailtime” and others celebrating the conviction. Then I stumbled upon a tweet from Anne Lamott. It read, “The mystery of grace is that God loves Jerry Sandusky just as much as our grandchildren. How can that be? It just is. God loves; period.”
Woah. If you click the link, you can see some people’s replies on Twitter. Lamott hit a bit of a nerve. To be honest, she hit mine too, as I weighed whether I even wanted to include this story and that comment in this post. However, I realized if I’m going to talk about radical grace, it fit. Because radical grace is scandalous; it makes us uncomfortable.
Does Sandusky deserve grace? Of course he doesn’t. But neither do you. Neither do I.
That’s not a comfortable thing to admit either. So instead of admitting it, we seek to understand the mystery of grace in order to tame it. Our culture says that if you can understand something, you control it. So we do our best to understand what grace is, and if that fails, we simply redefine it. Grace becomes a reward for diligent Bible study and frequent prayer. Grace is the thing we extend our best friends when they accidentally step on our shoe. Grace is what is offered to those with “small sins” on their rapsheet.
We tame grace, and in seeking to understand it, we strip it of its scandal. Whether we like it or not, grace is scandalous. Lamott is right – God’s love knows no bounds; he is always bidding us to come. He sees what you did last weekend and says come. He hears our judgmental thoughts and says come. He knows the darkest secrets that we dare not share with anyone. And still he says come.
The invitation is always there, and that’s scandalous. There are certainly not many people in the world who would invite Sandusky to eat at their table, but Christ does – he keeps the invitation open.
Scandalous grace is, of course, a part of a multi-faceted journey. We do well to remember Bonhoeffer’s point that when Christ bids us come, he bids us come and die. But the scandal remains and the more we try to tame grace, the more we strip it of what makes it grace. God’s grace is raw. He sees the mess, our mess, and steps into it through Christ and confronts us.
And that confrontation is always one that invites us out of the mess, not because we deserve it, but because he loves; period.