05 August 2006

Too large a helping of Grace?

I know it's possible to have too much of a good thing. In fact, I think I could be a case study for said principle. But I've been wondering lately about the theology of Grace thanks to marvelous Molly's Grace vs. Law discussion over at her blog. Then brilliant Dawn began dissecting an article about homeschooling, part of which deals with legalism. And I've been reading some other articles and blogs, mostly written by evangelicals/ conservatives which deal with the prevalence of legalism in the evangelical mindset. Through all of these articles, I've realized that (warning: generalization to follow!) tending towards legalism is a problem the mainline church simply doesn't have. In fact, any wrestling with legalism that occurs in our churches is generally from marginalized voices from within who are calling for, well, laws to govern us and our behavior. We manage to squash this dissent, or at least talk louder, by pointing to the love of Jesus and the grace of God and the necessity for Spirit-led living.
But before we pat ourselves on the back and recline in smug self-satisfaction, I think we should examine the possibility that perhaps we have erred on the side of grace. Perhaps too much grace is also not a great thing.
Now I can already hear the roar of my liturgical-dance clad sisters and perhaps, brothers, as they wave their dowel-mounted ribbons and shake their heads in wounded indignation. Too much grace? How could such a thing be possible?
Well, I think however it is possible, we've managed to do it.
Here's how I came to this realization -- Dawn in her blog post mentioned the parable of The Prodigal Son and her past tendency to teach it from the perspective of it being about the wages of sin.
I ashamedly admit that I was shocked! I have never heard that parable taught or preached from that perspective. Literally every time I have heard it, read it, preached it, it has been from the perspective of the father who offers an unconditional and in fact, abundant, pardon. And though, I believe, that is the point of the parable, having skipped over the wages-o-sin aspect of it, I think I have had a much less full understanding of that parable.
Now you may think that I'm the only moron who has ever single-sidedly read this passage of scripture, but I would say in imagined defense of myself that I have studied this parable a lot. I have read it, prayed it, written on it, preached it. I know the offense brought by the son against the father in a historical context. I know the father's right to refuse the son. I know the bones of this parable, but I have to admit, before the last few days, I did not understand the spirit. I had not ever considered the utter failure of this son. I hadn't ever considered the wanton and brazen disregard and disrespect offered by the offending son. I hadn't, in short, ever truly considered the sin.
And, I would guess, there are lots of folks like me in the mainline church. I could be wrong. I am a lot of the time, after all. But my guess is that there are many of us who prefer to skip over sin and get right to grace. We prefer to skip over our fallibility and get to the part about pardon from God. We prefer to skip over our mortality and get to the part about immortality promised by Christ.
But, in doing so, I think we're doing ourselves a big disservice.
Don't get me wrong -- I don't think we need to go full-fledged into wallowing in our sinfulness, especially because our shortcomings can and do become a source of pride. There are plenty of enormous Calvary Fill-in-the-Blank Churches in the world.
No, I don't think God creates us to remain in the pig pen even a short while. But I think we do ourselves a disservice if we don't recognize that that is where we ought to be. We're the ones who have chosen a path other than what God creates us to be. The pigpen is what we deserve.
And here's the crux of the matter -- without realizing and really contemplating what we deserve, we can't fully understand what a gift it is to be elsewhere, namely safe in the arms of our Father.
And that's what Grace is really all about, right? Being safely at Home even though we should still be wandering.

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