Posted by by Ben Escabarte on March 25, 2013
Ungrace—a word unfamiliar yet so prevalent in our society today. While I find ungrace an unpopular word, I came to understand that grace is just as unfamiliar and unpopular not only to me but to everyone as well. I find it unpopular because it seems that the people who proclaim the “gospel of God’s grace” are the very same people who exude more ungrace than graciousness. When secular people come across Christians, they often think of people who are self-righteous, stringent, inconsiderate, narrow-minded, condemning, and judgmental. Why? What went wrong?
In his book What’s So Amazing About Grace? Philip Yancey quotes David Seamands:
Many years ago I was driven to the conclusion that the two major causes of most emotional problems among evangelical Christians are these: the failure to understand, receive, and live out God’s unconditional grace and forgiveness; and the failure to give out that unconditional love, forgiveness, and grace to other people… We read, we hear, we believe a good theology of grace. But that’s not the way we live. The good news of the Gospel of grace has not penetrated the level of our emotions.
That, I believe, is the reason why Christians have an aroma of disgrace in a world clamoring for grace. To borrow the words of Yancey, “I would rather convey grace than explain it.” Grace, when defined, dies in the process. Grace is neither a word coined by Jesus nor a word used in his ministry (correct me if I’m wrong) but rather something that is experienced, not defined. For most of us, we fail to convey what we understand and experience about grace to secular people.
In his book, Yancey also mentions that “Mark Twain used to say he put a dog and cat in a cage together as an experiment, to see if they could get along. They did, so he put in a bird, pig, and goat. They, too, got along fine after a few adjustments. Then he put in a Baptist, Presbyterian, and Catholic; soon there was not a living thing left.” While the anecdote may be funny, it presents the stark reality of a—in the words of Anthony Hecht—“unappeasable hostility between Protestants and Catholics toward one another.” How can the gospel of God’s grace penetrate a world hungry for it when the people who proclaim such grace is disgraceful in the eyes of the lost? When born-again Christians become “born-against” other Christians, we demonstrate the worst form of ungrace by claiming to believe in one and the same God but are divided in our understanding of who God is.
It was the summer after my high school graduation and a few days before going to college when my uncle, the older brother of my father, died because of stroke. After the burial, our relatives had a little discussion at the living room of my widowed aunt. Now that my uncle was dead, they jokingly prayed to him to reveal in their dreams the winning number combinations for “swertres.” There was a moment of painful silence until a deep voice that sounded like my dearly departed uncle spoke out of nowhere and uttered a three-digit number combination. Everyone was taken aback by the literal and prompt response of the half-meant prayer. Then my aunt realized that it was my gay cousin who committed the prank behind the window outside the house. Everyone then laughed, but my cousin didn’t escape the usual demeaning insults of my relatives, who said things like, “Ang mga bayot ilansang sa krus! Dili na sila pasudlon sa langit!” (Gays must be crucified! They are not allowed to enter heaven!) But my witty cousin, quick to the punch, replied, “Dili mi pwede ilansang sa krus. Kami pa man gani mag-una didto kay kami na-assign mag-decorate sa clouds ug banner nga ‘Welcome!’” (We will not be crucified. In fact, we will be the ones who will enter heaven first for we are tasked to decorate the clouds with a ‘Welcome!’ banner!). That sent everyone to yet another laughing fit! While that was an unfounded rebuttal, I admired my cousin’s optimism. As I reflect on it now, it seems to me that my cousin somehow had the hope that regardless of his gender identity, God would still accept him for who he was. As for my relatives’ initial reaction to the prank, it’s hard to reconcile that fact that they are devout, religious people and yet are disdainful and are able to easily pass judgment on my cousin. A similar scenario is presented by Yancey in his book, where he talks about Christian activists against homosexuality hurling insults and condemnation toward gays, lesbians, and bisexual marchers who retaliates with the lyrics of a famous Christian song, “Jesus loves us, this we know, for the Bible tells us so.” Between my cousin and my relatives and between the gay marchers and the Christian activists, which among them understood, experienced, and demonstrated grace?
Late last month, our national director asked us one question, What important issues should we address in order to achieve our vision of having loving communities?” There were many answers that were suggested, and the one that struck me most was the issue of identity. Who are we in the light of God’s saving grace? If we are a people who are truly saved by the redeeming power of God’s grace in the person of Jesus Christ, then shouldn’t we be a people who exudes grace—rather than ungrace—to everyone in our immediate community? This question has led me to revisit the things that Philip Yancey wrote in his book What’s So Amazing About Grace? Indeed, I have so many things yet to learn about grace. But I also have a lot of disgrace to unlearn if I want to convey grace to other people. This world craves for grace in subtle ways we could never imagine. We need to be sensitive enough to recognize these opportunities where we can extend grace to the people around us. However, one must be prudent enough to balance the dispensation of grace and truth, for some have already gone far to the extremes. The issues presented above are but some of the many things that also deserve our equal attention. I may have touched very sensitive and broad themes but I write not as an expert over these matters but as a qualified student of God’s grace. Philip Yancey’s book will be a helpful tool in understanding grace and is, in itself, a touch of grace.