I met with a dear friend while I was home (he generously squeezed me into his schedule) and as we were talking the subject of grace came up. He shared about a study his church is going through and one of its central thrusts: correcting the common misconception that grace is only about salvation.
My friend went on to share that grace is not merely what saves us, but also what allows us to do or be any good at all. How true this is, and it was a valuable reminder for me. Yet as I write this post, I look towards a year that will be filled not just with me doing good or receiving good things but also, inevitably, a year that will have some painful moments.
My initial reflex, my gut reaction, in such moments is to feel like God is distant. And that his grace leaves with him.
But what if it is not just the good that is grace but also the hard, perhaps, even, the bad? God’s grace at work certainly does not create bad circumstances, but he does use them. Joseph reminded his brothers of this reality – indeed, in many ways, their abandoning him in a pit was God’s grace as it took Joseph to the place he needed to be.
A lot of this depends on our perspective and how we look at the world. Tolkien has his elves be envious of humanity’s mortality. For most of us, such an idea is ridiculous – society fears death, it is a bad thing. Yet from the perspective of immortality, death is grace, a transition to ultimate rest.
So, perhaps, are some of the “bad” things in our lives. Our struggle with health is perhaps God’s gracious way of inviting us to depend on him alone, rather than rely on our own strength. Our lack of discipline is God’s grace at work teaching us that our efforts will remain insufficient, and drawing our eyes to Christ. His grace is at work when he illuminates, demonstrates, and transforms our perspective, commonly in the midst of the megaphone of pain.
This year, my own challenge is to look not with eyes locked on the situation immediately before me, but with eyes looking through the situation to the generous hand of God behind it. I suspect that if I look in this way, I will quickly discover that Brennan Manning was right: all is grace.