05 March 2007

The Terror of Grace.

In my Dialogues with God thread, I wrote that God is terrifying, and that his grace is also terrifying, but that is why we are to love him. Indeed, that is why we love him.

It's a topic I'm exploring through a story called Terror's Grace, and, while I won't go into all the details, as it's a bit complicated and beside the point of the thread, the purpose is to demonstrate this aspect of God.

"What?" you say. "I mean, I know God can be terrifying, but his grace is our comfort."

Well, yes. My point is that his terror is our comfort.

"The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge."

"It is a terrible thing to fall into the hands of God."

"It is better to fall into the hands of God than men."

Try this with me. In the past we've said that God is not tame, that he is neither mocked nor questioned, and that sometimes he refuses to answer the questions (indeed, so he has said).

Consider: We've said that God is not safe. That God is like the companion who could, upon whim, crush us to bits, and yet chooses not to.

In that is our comfort.

The disconcerting part is: Grace requires that the recipient be deserving of death.

To use a literary example, Aragorn can kill Frodo and his three friends and take the Ring for himself at any possible moment. We know far too well what he's capable of. He can take on the Nine, spot an ambush out of thin air, and put fear in the hearts of the dead. He has the power to frighten Sauron himself.

Indeed, he was right when he told Frodo, "You aren't nearly frightened enough."

Now consider this: There was a powerful man who rule an empire, but he was betrayed and cast out of his magnificent palace. Being mild-mannered and slow to anger, the man waited. In private he gathered his armies, under the nose of his enemy.

One day this king saw his enemy and his enemy's son...and the dog was beating his son severely. So the king took the son and made him his own, and rode away.

The son was angry with his first father, and despised him. Time passed, but something in the son's heart would not mend. Something lacked in the grace bestowed him.

So the king sent this son back to his father's encampment and made him a prisoner. The son was enraged, feeling abandoned and betrayed, despised.

The enemy troubled him day and night, punishing him for the king's kindness. Night after night the son begged for release, but none came. He had not spoken to the king since his departure...and so bitter was he that he refused.

Finally, when all seemed lost, and the son thought he would die in despair, he was taken in the night by a rebel, stolen in the darkness and made a slave to a foreign emperor.

All seemed utterly lost.

I won't tell you how it ends. I honestly can't say yet. But here's the thing: Ultimately, grace depends on forgiveness. And accepting it.

To truly receive grace, you'll have to extend it on the one person you despise the most, the one person who has done you the most harm and cost you the most.

To truly say "My comfort is God's sovereignty," I have to be like Frodo: I know that Aragorn can kill me. Unlike Frodo, I know that Aragorn should kill me, and if he decides to, people will rejoice over my bones.

Grace is harsh, because it demands something of us. Grace is not complete until it is extended on someone else. For, like God said in Genesis 12, "I will bless you, and you will be a blessing, and all the nations will be blessed because of you."

Compassion is dangerous. Jesus was compassionate, but no power on earth could stay his hand, and our God is a jealous God. Jesus is jealous for his own. Jealous.

The terror isn't in that Jesus could kill you. The disconcerting part is knowing that he should; and, because he does not, he expect you to not "kill" others.

Furthermore, Jesus will often force you to put your money where your mouth is. With a mere thought he can end everything. And he rightly should.

Yes, God is love.

And that is why none of us can stand to look him in the eye when we've sinned. Yes, God's holy, and we tend to squirm.

But think about this: I've said before that I don't do anything (for the most part) that leaves me in the position where I cannot look my father in the eye. I can't bear the shame of the disappointment in his eyes. I can't.

Grace is terrifying because we never deserved it to begin with, and, as a result, whenever we sin, we remember that this same Jesus who extended grace extends justice.

If Jesus was "always raising the bar," then we have to assume that the law of grace is far more unsettling than the law of Moses.

In other words, if I have three rules to abide by, and I break one of them, I know I can be disciplined and move on. It is possible to abide by three rules.

The trouble with the law of grace is, we have to abide by it, and we really don't know what the rules are.

The thing with grace is, we're required to do the same. God became a man and died for the people who killed him. And he wants you and I to imitate him, to become the refuse of the world and die for people who kill us.

And that itself is troubling. Furthermore, we have to do it every day. And we have to trust that this God who demands we die won't kill us, and that he'll keep the promises he's made even when it looks like he's gotten bored and thrown us back to the Predator like an unwanted chunk of rotten meat.

We live these lives wondering why we're so far from home and if God wasn't just playing a sick joke and if he isn't going to turn around and cast us off again, so that we're worse off than when we started: Humiliated, dead, and dying.

Now that would be pitiable.

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