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The upsidedown logic of grace

Questions to Ask in 2021
I’ve been thinking about grace and why we find it so scandalous. Grace, when it shows up, is usually a big surprise. We expect an equivalent response – an eye for an eye, tit for tat. We expect to say, “He got what was coming to him.” Something inside us expects reciprocity, just as one note foll…
By Seth Barnes
I’ve been thinking about grace and why we find it so scandalous. Grace, when it shows up, is usually a big surprise. We expect an equivalent response – an eye for an eye, tit for tat. We expect to say, “He got what was coming to him.” Something inside us expects reciprocity, just as one note follows another in a song or a pendulum swings back at the end of its arc.
 
It’s the opposite of our carry-a-big-stick foreign policy. It says, “Unilateral disarmament is better.” It says weakness makes room for spiritual strength.
 
Of course Jesus began his ministry by standing our human logic on its head. “Do not resist an evil person,” he declared.* “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,” he said.* And then he proceeded to illustrate what that looks like with his life.
 
Grace runs so contrary to our experience that we need illustrations of what it looks like. Showing what grace looks like in real life may be the main work of a discipler. Me writing this blog or preaching you a sermon at best just provokes you. Across the internet or in the pew I can heighten your awareness (and in so doing raise the  odds of my complicity in your hypocrisy if nothing changes in your life), but I can’t show you what you need most – that is a counter-intuitive demonstration of grace.
 
We know we should have it. We include the word “grace” in naming our churches and our Christian radio programs, and then we spend an inordinate amount of time defining why exactly others are not recipients of grace, why our understanding of Scripture is superior to theirs.
 
It was this sort of behavior by the religious establishment that so incensed Jesus. Grace comes when you throw the rule book away and dare someone to throw the first stone. It almost always feels like a high wire act, like you could lose your balance and fall and you’d have no net underneath you. Like there’s no one to set things right when you allow someone to slap the other side of your face.
 
Think about the last time you saw a true act of grace – didn’t it surprise you? The apology when you expected sulking, the smile when you expected an argument, the kindness on a cold New York subway. Grace is the surprising evidence that wins the legal case our enemy makes against us.
 
We who are bold enough to follow a master who made grace his central tent pole, would do well to examine our lives and look for the fruit of grace. Is it there? Can anyone see it? Could they name an example if I asked them?
 
When Jesus describes the kingdom as treasure buried in a field and the rare pearl of great price, I think this is what he means. The evidence of the kingdom is the surprising fruit of grace. The people who hurt you don’t deserve your forgiveness – give it to them anyway. Those unavenged cruelties are not your responsibility – set them down.
 
Put other people’s needs before your own when they don’t expect it and watch their eyes widen in surprise. Bring grace into your home and you’ll find yourself an answer to Jesus’ prayer that the kingdom comes on earth as it is in heaven.
 
If the world seems like a dark place and our eyes have grown accustomed to it, it’s the soft candlelight of grace that restores our vision and enables us to see the kingdom coming.
 

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