You probably saw this coming, right? Justice, mercy, and…grace: Unearned merit or favor, a gift. Who gives what could not be requested without any expectation of repayment? Do you, Blognog? Have you ever given an action or a gift to someone that had no strings attached, something like an irrevocable trust fund? Have you ever received such an extraordinary gift under such circumstances? Grace in its purest form is rarer than honest politicians. Hear me out, please.
In Les Miserables there is a grace-filled interaction between the thief Valjean and Bishop Myriel. The thief had stolen silverware from the bishop, but rather than press charges and further destroy the thief’s life, the bishop tells the police that the silverware was a gift, and then he adds a pair of precious silver candlesticks. In this one act the Bishop demonstrates mercy with Valjean and overrides the requirements of justice. However, he does not stop with mercy. He knows that forgiving the thief will not prevent the police from arresting Valjean, so he gives away more to save the thief from endless incarceration. Clearly this man demonstrated grace to someone in active rebellion. Such grace is so amazing that the police and Valjean were confused.
No one deserves grace, and still it is given. In 1984 my wife and I lost our second daughter at birth. It was the singular most devastating event in my life. I had just turned 28, and a few days later the overdue baby was coerced into a brief, oxygenless, ten minute life. The irony was that she could not live outside the womb and eventually would have died in utero as well. Diaphragmatic hernia caused the lungs to be undeveloped. Death waited on both sides of the birth canal. The grief we experienced was nearly psychotic at times. Dreams of crying babies were haunting at night. In the daylight the empty crib was unbearable to look at, and yet we stood and stared helplessly at it until we mustered the strength to clear the nursery before it became a shrine to our grief. That experience was like cutting out your own abdominal tumor and stitching yourself up without anesthesia… delivering yourself of the dead thing. We walked alone in an emotional fog for a year, I think, unable to get pregnant again and unable to see joy’s light shine through on any horizon.
We could, however, build a house, which we set our minds to doing in 1985. The day we moved in, August 1, my father died. It was not a shock that he died at age 68, as he had never taken good care of himself. It did make the world feel so sad, though. Especially for my four year old daughter Erin, who had lost a sister and a grandfather in the space of 1/4 of her innocent little life. You wonder about the scars you can’t see. I still wonder about the effects these deaths had on her young psyche. You don’t have to get hit by lightning too many times to fear it happening again. I guess once is enough for most folks. But we were not superstitious. Those rainsoaked losses broke through my pride and watered my faith.
In 1986, after a cleverly named surgery, we were pregnant again. High risk this time. We took nothing for granted. Our doctors were different and the hospital had to be. Our post mortem experience had been unspeakable at the previous hospital two and a half years ago. The new attending nurse was our friend, an ebullient OBGYN nurse who had lost a baby in 1984 also. That’s how we met. She and her husband had conceived in the meantime and she was excited for us to be blessed again. Little did we know that her two year old daughter would be killed in a car wreck that she caused in another year. Ironies abound in life, huh? But that day we welcomed joy back into our lives… while she had no idea that in less than a year she would cause the death of her child, the injury of her son, the near destruction of her self, and the obliteration of her marriage. [Taste that metallic iron flavor that blood gives off. Have you never experienced that taste? Suck on a rusty nail until it dissolves in your mouth and then you’ll know what irony tastes like.]
The time had come for delivery. Not only was our third daughter delivered in perfect health, but we were delivered out of darkness and anguish that had lasted two years. It was not hard to name our child. Grace was our only choice; for she was a gift from a loving God, no question. Like the scene from Narnia when the Ice Queen is defeated, our Arctic landscape melted just five days prior to Christmas. She came home in a large red stocking and we posed her under the tree; for truly, she was a gift.
On a higher plane that is invisible except to the spiritually sighted, grace is the most excruciatingly expensive gift of all history. It is free to receive but immeasurably costly to give. Christians believe that God the father sacrificed his only son, Jesus, in order to pay the price of our sins. God satisfied the requirements of His own Justice system with the life of His son in order to forgive sinful human beings from what they deserved– damnation. Once that debt was cancelled, the treasure of eternal life, the irrevocable trust fund– reunification with the Father– was available at no fee. And it still is, with no expiration date or special fine print conditions.
I did not deserve another life, my daughter’s or my own. And now as Grace is giving birth to my first granddaughter, I don’t deserve her either. Many parental sacrifices have been made for my daughters and now my granddaughter, but none compare even faintly with the sacrifice of the first Parent, God the father. Fortunately, He does not ask such a sacrifice in return, just our heartfelt thanks and obedience.