grace noun \ˈgrās \ 1.a. unmerited divine assistance given to humans for their regeneration or sanctification. b. a virtue coming from God. c. a state of sanctification enjoyed through divine assistance. 2. a. a charming or attractive trait or characteristic. b. a pleasing appearance or effect.
In his book “What’s So Amazing About Grace?” Philip Yancey describes a conference on comparative religions where experts from around the world debated which belief, if any, was unique to the Christian faith. C.S. Lewis happened to enter the room during the discussion. When he was told the topic was Christianity’s unique contribution among world religions, Lewis responded: “Oh, that’s easy. It’s grace.” Lewis was right. No other religion places grace at its theological center. It was a revolutionary idea; as Mr. Yancey puts it, grace “seems to go against every instinct of humanity.”
We are naturally drawn to covenants and karma, to cause and effect, to earning what we receive. Grace is different. It is the unmerited favor of God, unconditional love given to the undeserving. It’s a difficult concept to understand because it isn’t entirely rational. There’s a radical equality at the core of grace. None of us are deserving of God’s grace, so it’s not dependent on social status, wealth or intelligence. There is equality between kings and peasants, the prominent and the unheralded, rule followers and rule breakers.
If you find yourself in the company of people whose hearts have been captured by grace, count yourself lucky. They love us despite our messy lives, stay connected to us through our struggles, always holding out the hope of redemption. When relationships are broken, it’s grace that causes people not to give up, to extend the invitation to reconnect, to work through misunderstandings with sensitivity and transparency.
You don’t sense hard edges, dogmatism or self-righteous judgment from gracious people. There’s a tenderness about them that opens doors that had previously been bolted shut. People who have been transformed by grace have a special place in their hearts for those living in the shadows of society. They’re easily moved by stories of suffering and step into the breach to heal. And grace properly understood always produces gratitude.
Living a grace-filled life is hard. Most of us, when we feel wronged, want payback. Our first impulse, when hurt or offended, is to strike out, justifying our anger in the name of fairness.
When Mr. Yancey was young, he rejected the church for a time because he found so little grace there. There is a tendency among many people of faith to come across as holier than thou, more eager to judge than to forgive. Jesus encountered this throughout his entire ministry, which helps explain why he was more comfortable in the company of the unclean and reviled, the lowly and the outcast, than religious authorities. The odds are that you know people who have had scars of ungrace inflicted upon them by the Christian church. Yet when we see grace in action — whether in acts of extravagant, indiscriminate love, in radical self-giving, or in showing equanimity in the face of death — it can move us unlike anything else.
In 2014, a friend of mine was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Upon learning it had spread, he wrote, “In all probability, the remainder of my life on this earth is now to be counted in weeks and months.” (He died in January 2015.) My friend acknowledged that pain and death are reminders of the nature of our broken world. Yet he went on to say: “There is a much bigger story of which this is only a tiny part. And it is God’s story of love, hope, forgiveness, reconciliation, and joy. We went into this journey choosing to trust God and to offer our fears to God. We’ve been so grateful for the freedom from fear and the abundance of peace that we have experienced.” He added, “There are, of course, times of discouragement, grief, pain, and wonder. After all, there are a lot of unknowns ahead of us.”
I sent my friend’s reflections to my brother, who responded, “It’s letters like this — the wisdom, the grace — that make me wish I weren’t an atheist.” When I recently asked my brother how, as a nonbeliever, he understood grace and why it inspires us when we see it in others, he told me that grace is “some combination of generosity and magnanimity, kindness and forgiveness, and empathy — all above the ordinary call of duty, and bestowed even (or especially?) when not particularly earned.” We see it demonstrated in heroic ways and in small, everyday contexts, he said. “But I guess, regardless of the context, it’s always at least a little unexpected and out of the ordinary.”
I think I’ve listened to every Ceara Lynch interview and podcast she’s done. It’s clear to me that she accepts people without judgment; that she lives deliberately with an unwillingness to harbor animosity and ill-will. If one were to solely believe her humiliatrix persona, the empathy, kindness and equanimity revealed in her podcasts would be unexpected, surprising, and unearned. Yet, in stark contrast to that fantasized persona, it’s in those podcasts and interviews – in those unguarded moments – that the real Ceara Lynch reveals the grace that lies within.