I'm reading another Yancey book as part of my devotional (The Jesus I Never Knew) and was finishing up Chapter 7, in which Yancey continues to discuss various aspects of Jesus' message in the Beatitudes. The thrust of this chapter was the offensive nature of the Beatitudes since it seems to outline a standard of living that is impossible for anyone to live up to.
I was reading along when I came to a particular sentence that stopped me in my tracks. I had to go back and read it again and then I had to go grab my highlighter and mark it (because there are days my brain is like Swiss cheese and I have a better shot of finding something if I mark it than if I assure myself I will remember the page/chapter where I read it). Yancey has just finished comparing and contrasting Tolstoy and Dostoevsky in order to highlight the difference between ideals and grace when he writes "Grace is absolute, inflexible, all-encompassing. It extends even to the people who nailed Jesus to the cross: 'Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing' were among the last words Jesus spoke on earth."
This is the part I had to go back and re-read: Grace is inflexible. I don't think I'd ever seen it put quite like that before and I started thinking. How much easier is it to offer grace to someone who shows repentance for their actions? How much easier might it be to offer to pray for someone who has hurt a friend or family member by their actions because of a prior relationship you may have had with that person and you may have insight into their problems?
That sentence...grace is inflexible. It says to me that grace doesn't work on a sliding scale. We need to remember that the same grace extended to the outwardly repentant soul needs to remain on tap to the outwardly unrepentant soul for the moment they realize their thirst. It doesn't mean that the unrepentant person gets off scot-free (although it may definitely seem like it at the time) since actions have consequences and those consequences must be dealt out fairly depending on the severity of the situation. But how many of us - myself included - have simply put someone out-of-sight-out-of-mind...stopped praying for someone...because what they did was, to us, unforgiveable and they just didn't care?
I don't know. I mean, this is something I'm still figuring out for myself - partially because God knocked me upside the head with a clue-by-four about two months ago and told me he wanted me to start praying for a particular person. Now, I don't like this person. I don't like what they did and I don't like what they've done since then. The damage from their acts has been great. It's like what you see when you throw a stone in the water: the ripples just keep spreading further and further. I haven't even talked to this person since it happened and I don't intend to.
But there was God one morning settling down next to me and my caramel latte. *zealously guards caramel latte*
God: "Hey, I want you to start praying for this person."
Me: "Really? I don't suppose this would be an example of your sense of humor this time, either?"
God: "No. As before, my sense of humor remains excellent. However, I am, once again, making a serious request."
Me: "Oh boy." (please use correct Sam Beckett 'Quantum Leap' tone)
And...I'm trying to pray for this person. Some days it really sucks and I don't want to think about the grace that is there should they choose to avail themselves of it 'cause...you know, they hurt people. Badly. They hurt my friends. They wreaked havoc. And I have to pray for this person? Send up the "it's not fair!" whine.
And then I get to the end of the chapter and the clue-by-four pretty much smacks me between the eyes. So it's not fair I "have" to pray for this person but, considering sin is sin and there is no hierarchy (i.e., no one sin is worse than another), it's perfectly fair that I can accept grace for all my crapola and move on? Yeah, errrr....*cough*. Hypocrisy, would you like some cheese with that whine?
Yancey writes, "Thunderously, inarguably, the Sermon on the Mount proves that before God we all stand on level ground: murderers and temper-throwers, adulterers and lusters, thieves and coveters. We are all desperate, and that is in fact the only state appropriate to a human being who wants to know God. Having fallen from the absolute Ideal, we have nowhere to land but in the safety net of absolute grace."
I guess grace can make ripples too.