In the patchwork quilt that is my spiritual journey, grace was a piece of the design I didn’t understand. I heard numerous preachers extol the miracle of grace from the pulpit. But what did it mean?
My confusion mostly stemmed from the fact that most faith traditions don’t exactly agree on what grace is or isn’t. I’ve read a number of books and scoured the web to get a handle on it. The simplest, most straightforward definition I came across was by Mary Fairchild at About.com: “Grace is kindness from God we don’t deserve.”
As virtuous as we try to be, our human frailty leads us astray. Sin is at the very root of our nature. No matter how hard we try, at the very least we’re going to covet or blaspheme along the way … probably without even realizing it. Grace is the gift that redeems us from our transgressions. Christ died for all the sin humans have committed and will commit. Here’s where the arguments get hot: does this mean we get a free pass to party like rock stars because Christ died for our sins?
There are an infinite number of answers to that question. Which of those answers is actually correct is part of the Divine mystery. Depending on your concept of Hell, all but a select few of us will end up in eternal damnation … or all of us, no matter how large our sins, will ascend to the Pearly Gates. But it’s even more complicated than that! Casting aside those who either do or don’t believe in Hell, we still have to factor in the varying views of Purgatory. For some, Purgatory IS Hell. For others it’s the waiting room between the two places … while still others view our earthly lives as Purgatory. Our life on earth is simply marking time.
Where does grace fall in all that?
There are those who believe you are only granted God’s grace if you take a vow of poverty, donate every cent you make to charity and devote your life to Christ’s mission. There are those who believe as long as one person suffers none shall be granted eternal life. Still others believe so long as you say God and Jesus are A-OK in your book, your place in heaven is waiting. But who is right?
Seems like a cruel guessing game, doesn’t it? But this isn’t some Diving game of Clue, we’re talking about our eternal souls here, right? We can all argue about grace until we’re blue in the face, but the answer to this mystery isn’t going to reveal itself until each of us is unable to tell anyone else what the true answer is.
All we have are human beliefs and convictions about what God’s message is. The piece of that message that was always most clear to me was love. Love one another regardless. No matter differing ideologies, religions, race or creed God is pretty clear that he wants us to love and care for one another. While we bide our time on this mortal coil, I think that’s one of the best things we can do … if only to make a worthwhile endeavor out of this whole mystery.