It seems to me what is lacking today is grace and the recognition of grace. Grace is a word that has many meanings, but I think a core meaning to grace is “free and unmerited favor”, or a similar definition is “undeserved love”. With these definitions you think of God and his grace. A related definition for us also is “courteous goodwill”. That seems to be lacking today.
Another way of looking at grace is to look from a justice perspective. Justice is you getting what you deserve. Mercy is not getting the bad that you deserve, and grace is getting the good that you do not deserve. Some people argue that grace and mercy (and forgiveness) promote injustice. Practicing grace, mercy, and forgiveness is not fair, and today some people are against this leniency. Maybe the unfairness of showing grace is why we do not see more gracious behavior today. It is always the person showing grace, mercy and/or forgiveness who sacrifices their personal right for a fair outcome. Without mercy, grace, and forgiveness, reconciliation becomes very difficult.
Pondering the gracelessness of today’s society, I am reminded of a book that I first read about 25 years ago called “What’s So Amazing About Grace?” by Philip Yancey. It is an excellent book that I have read several times and it helped me grow in my faith. Now I just got done defining the word grace, but Philip Yancey avoids those definitions and instead uses stories to describe grace.
For me, one great story told in the book is “Babette’s Feast”. (The Danish movie is worth watching too.) This great French cook, Babette, flees for her life and arrives in Denmark at this small strict pietistic aging congregation where she begs to be taken in by these two aging sisters of the founding pastor. She works for free, cooking their bland food in keeping with their belief to avoid the pleasantries of the world. A friend in Paris keeps buying a lottery ticket for her every year. After many years, she wins 10,000 Francs in the lottery, and she buys and prepares this fabulous feast. The small congregation decides not to offend her and to eat this exotic meal but they decided they would not speak of the pleasures of the meal. Of course, they can not help but enjoy this fabulous meal. During the meal, various relationships are restored. The sisters thank her for the meal and ask when she would be leaving. Babette replied that she had spent all the money on the feast and she would be staying. That story of a free undeserved feast illustrates grace wonderfully. There are so many good stories in the book.
In the book, we have the parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32). Philip Yancey modernizes the story in his chapter called “Lovesick Father”. Think of the concern and agony a parent feels when a child rebels and disappears. It is because the parent loves them and is concerned for their well being. The parent rejoices when the child finally reappears. Throwing a party is not out of the question. The child does not have to prove their worth. In the same way God loves us unconditionally (Romans 5:8), and because of his love he sent Jesus (John 3:16) so that we might be reconciled to him (2 Corinthians 5:18-19).
On the other side of grace, there is a story of a grandmother who was unwilling to forgive and see her formerly drunk abusive father, even after he cleaned up and found Jesus. That unforgiveness was passed onto her daughter and onto her estranged grandson who spoke the exact same words of ungrace about his ex-wife, “I hope I never see her again as long as I live”. The lack of forgiveness in each generation results in broken relationships. Your words and attitudes create a culture that can affect generations. My dad had a coworker who had not seen his mom in many years even though he drove past her house everyday on his way to work. It is hard for me to imagine the hardness of heart in that broken relationship.
Attitudes of grace can affect political situations. South Africa’s transition away from apartheid to an open and free democracy was bloodless. This was because of grace and forgiveness that was offered. Grace brings reconciliation. The fall of the Berlin Wall was in part due to the churches having candlelight vigils and processions. It was another peaceful transfer of power.
Are we being gracious? Do we give people the benefit of the doubt or do we assume the worst? Are we willing to forgive? Jesus forgave those who accused and put him to death (Luke 23:34). Can we not do the same? Jesus also tells us to love our enemies (Matthew 5:44). So as we imitate Jesus (1 Corinthians 11:1), we should be able to show some grace.
I have read most of Philip Yancey’s books and they are all good and insightful. I highly recommend his books, especially “What’s So Amazing About Grace?” and “The Jesus I Never Knew”.