Grace and Gratitude

I'm reminded this morning of God's grace.

The Apostle Paul, very early in the collection of letters to the church in Corinth, starts off saying, "I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus..." (1 Corinthians 1:4 ESV). Paul is grateful for the church in Corinth. Now, given Paul's sensitivity to sin and to perversions of the gospel expressed elsewhere and given what we will come to know about the messes and problems that exist in the Corinthian church, there is some question about how on earth Paul can express such gratitude.

But what's the source of gratitude? For Paul, it's "because of the grace of God..." God's grace makes him, even one so sensitive to injustice and sin, a grateful man even for so corrupt a community. Grace enables Paul, as it enables us, to see whatever is good in a world so filled with messes.

Our vernacular is interesting when it comes to grace. We speak of "extending grace" to someone as though we have agency to decide where grace might go. Is grace ours to give? Certainly not! Only God, who is free, has agency over grace. As such, grace is totally free and will go to whom God sends it without regard to our personal acknowledgement. Our agency is only to affirm or not to affirm that which is true: that God's grace has been given to all. Since God is love (1 John 4:8), grace goes where God's love goes and God's love is universal! As such, grace does not depend on the desirability of its object, it does not wait for merit or for one to deserve it. By definition it in not deserved by any who receive it. Grace precedes us.

It is for us, simply to affirm grace wherever it is (namely, everywhere). What is also presupposed in this is that grace is not deserved. Should we ignore sin? Should we be relegated to silence in the midst of injustice and all kinds of oppression? Of course not! Indeed such things should make us angry. Paul's letters to Corinth are certainly not void of his prophetic expressions of righteous anger. But his starting point is gratitude, not an extension of grace but a humble acknowledgment thereof.

Whenever we approach another, individually or communally, it is for us to acknowledge the precedence and presence of grace--that which, when understood, can only illicit gratitude and love. Those of us who are more passionate about justice and theological health (for lack of a better term) will have a difficult time with this. We will be happy to discover that the move toward activism and correction is not precluded. But the difficult and wonderful reality is that any move toward Christian activism and advocacy, is always a move from a position of love and gratitude.

Should we love our enemy? Should we be grateful for the ones whom we should rightly oppose? Only if we understand grace, and understand that grace is as radical for anyone as it is even for us, will we be able to respond to sin in the way of Christ. This is a frustrating and yet wonderful thing; frustrating because there are churches and institutions which should of course illicit moral outrage, wonderful because it means that the limits of grace have been exceeded even in us. For this we can be grateful!