This is the second time I’ve read this book.
The first time was in the summer before my senior year of college when I was taking a summer school class about the New Testament. This book was on my required reading list, but my library didn’t have it, and I didn’t feel like buying it on Amazon. So I drove to the library in the next town to get it, circled around the parking lot looking for a place to park, and suddenly this pole appeared out of nowhere, and I crashed my parents’ car into a pole. This could probably go down in history as my most brilliant move ever.
In that moment, I remember pounding my head on the steering wheel and groaning, “God… I didn’t need an object lesson.”
There have been a few times in my life (such as the one I just described) when I have felt beyond the reaches of grace. I am so small, so deeply flawed, so hopeless that I don’t deserve anyone’s compassion.
When I speak hastily, or allow my emotions to kick into overdrive, or crash my car, I just want to crawl inside myself and push everyone else away, afraid that someone else will find out how pathetic and undeserving I really am.
In this book, Philip Yancey paints a vivid picture of grace, saying that “The gospel of grace begins and ends with forgiveness. And people write songs with titles like “Amazing Grace” for one reason: grace is the only force in the universe powerful enough to break the chains that enslave generations. Grace alone melts ungrace.”
Sometimes the hardest person to forgive is yourself.
When I think about Grace, I think about a particularly beautiful passage in Isaiah 43 in which God is calling back the nation of Israel despite their rebellion.
But now thus says the Lord,
he who created you, O Jacob,
he who formed you, O Israel:
“Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you. (Isaiah 43: 1-2, ESV)
This is a powerful kind of grace, the kind of grace that forgets past wrongs and relentlessly pursues reconciliation we have not earned. The kind of grace that waits outside the door even when we feel too ashamed to let it in. It’s during the difficult times in my life that I don’t just want grace to justify my actions, but I desperately need grace in order to feel whole again. Philip Yancey quotes Thomas Merton when he says “We cannot find Him unless we know we need Him.” He says later “Grace teaches us that God loves us because of who God is, not because of who we are.”
When I clench my fists and don’t allow myself to receive grace, it’s pride dressed as humility. I am essentially saying that what I did wrong is so big, so earth shattering, so important that the most powerful force in the world can’t wash it away. I am beyond the reaches of grace because in my world, I am big and God is small.
When I open up my clenched fists and allow grace to come in, I am always surprised by the what I receive. I received grace when the auto mechanic was willing to fix my car for the amount my insurance company was willing to pay them. I received grace when I picked fights with my family members over stupid things and they chose to love me anyway. I received grace when I was offered an opportunity to teach after I almost gave it up.
Grace is healing. But like a polite visitor, it will only come if you invite it in.
We are all deeply flawed. But despite ourselves, we are so deeply loved. Be loved, be forgiven, and start again.