But he gives us more grace. This is why it says, “God stands against the proud, but favors the humble.” – James 4:6
As a writer, one of the things I constantly try to guard against is the trite, the gratuitous, and the cliché – especially when talking about experiences that are serious, or heart-wrenching. I also want to be as accurate as possible, and in consequence I’ve found myself thinking through some of the standard things we tend to say at times of crisis.
That’s what happened yesterday evening, when I met with the Wednesday men’s group and we found ourselves talking about the deep tragedy our church is grappling with this week. Tuesday evening – in a story that’s been all over the local news – one of our teens – Annalisa – was found in Falls Lake. Her death has stunned the community in the way such stories always do.
As a group, we went up to the prayer garden to join the informal prayer vigil. People – mostly parents, teens, and youth advisors – joined in song, read scriptures, prayed, and lit candles. Then we slipped back to our room to complete our time of Bible-study and fellowship.
There but for the grace of God….
That’s when I caught myself about to say something I immediately questioned. We were talking about the experience of raising teenagers, about how challenging it can be, and about the times all of us have questioned ourselves, and doubted. We talked about how precipitously close to the edge life teeters at times, and especially when we are raising children….
And that’s when I felt a phrase coming to the surface:
“I was about to use the standard, ‘But for the grace of God…'” I said to the guys. “But I don’t think that’s valid here. Would I suggest the grace of God isn’t at play with this family at this time? Of course not! The saying, ‘But for the grace of God, there go I..’ almost suggests God’s grace is something arbitrary, hit or miss, earned, or offered in proportion to our walk as believers; or available for some… but not for others. No! This family in this tragic situation is also covered by the grace of God.”
The truth about grace is that we are all living with God’s grace as a constant. One of the verses Rebekah had people read during the prayer time was this, from Psalm 23: “Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me. Your rod and your staff protect and comfort me.”
Another translation, one she made sure was heard several times, goes like this: “I may walk through valleys as dark as death, but I won’t be afraid. You are with me, and your shepherd’s rod makes me feel safe.”
That’s grace. We’re all suffering, and one of our families is devastated beyond what most of us can imagine, but God’s grace abounds. God’s grace is at work even now with Annalisa – she is still very much God’s child.
“But for the grace of God…?” Not the best phrase to use. Because of the grace of God; because of grace we can walk through this valley; because of grace this family knows the presence of God in this darkness.
Because of God’s grace, none of us ever needs to be alone, and no one ever has to lose hope.
“And since it is through God’s kindness, then it is not by their good works. For in that case, God’s grace would not be what it really is—free and undeserved.” – Romans 11:6
This is the good news; this is the Gospel; this is the truth about grace – DEREK