"It's amazing how much more mercy I give to people who struggle with sins I understand." [Michael Cheshire, Going to Hell with Ted Haggard, Christianity Today, December 2012}Ouch! Did I really just read that? And why did I catch myself catching my breath?
"You guys can't forgive him and let him back into your good graces. Every time you talk to me about God, you explain that he will take me as I am. You say he forgives all my failures and will restore my hope, and as long as I stay outside the church, you say God wants to forgive me. But that guy failed while he was one of you, and most of you are still vicious to him." Then he uttered words that left me reeling: "You Christians eat your own. Always have. Always will."These were just the first of many thoughts that reached right into my gut and yanked at the fibers of what I believe about grace and stirred the pot of how conditional it is in my life.
Going to Hell with Ted Haggard [What I Learned about Grace and Redemption Through my Friendship with a Christian Pariah] is one of the most thought-provoking pieces I've read in quite a while. Not that I haven't read my share, but this man, Michael Cheshire, just dared to put us face-to-face with the ugly side of grace (catch my sarcasm here because grace was never intended to be ugly).
Truth be told, I would bet my next paycheck (if I earned one) that most people can relate to one side of this story or the other: the Christian sinner cast aside for daring to sin or, if we're throwing all caution to the wind for the sake of utter transparency, the person who has done the casting. Shoot, we've probably all sailed in both boats at one time or another. I know I have.
I think the reason this article touched such a tender spot in me is because I remember the unveiling of this "scandal", the media coverage it received and the venom it produced. Sadly, once I was over my shock of learning that a pastor, of all people, (more sarcasm) could fall from grace so harshly, I remember thinking along the lines of this thought pointed out in the article:
"Most Christians would say God can forgive him, but almost universally people agree that God will never use him again."I shudder now when I realize that type of judgment resided in my heart just over six years ago, but I smile in thankfulness when I recognize that God has brought me a long way on the journey of learning grace in my life, although I still have a ways to go. Who am I to label someone "unusable"? In other words, "Who died and made me God?"
Now I read stories like this one and nod my head in agreement with the author's next line:
"'Why can't God still use Ted?" After all, I reasoned, Jesus restored Peter after he denied Christ."But unless I trail off my intended path for this particular blog, I will let the "usable or unusable" topic sit for the time being. (For the record, I would stand in the "usable" line if asked to pick a side.) No, what struck me the most about these particular phrases is two-fold: 1) the grace partnership with restoration and, more importantly, 2) the basic necessity for grace itself.
I have a lot of thoughts spinning around my head, and I could easily digress here, but I've been really challenged by the whole topic of grace as I give it and live it. What's hit me is the notion that I have no problem reading this article and wholeheartedly agreeing that Ted Haggard deserves grace and restoration, not because he's earned it but precisely because he doesn't have to earn it, should not be made to earn it.
In familiar fashion to the opening quote of this blog, I can say, "It's amazing how much more grace I give to those whose lives I view from afar, but I struggle with it when you own a piece of my heart."
Why do I hand out grace on a silver platter to the man down the street, or the person on Facebook I barely know, yet my grace has its limits and its conditions when it's tested by the same person(s) time and again? Is it still grace if it has limits, which in reality makes it conditional? If grace is unmerited then who am I to say, "Today you are worthy, tomorrow you are not. The first few times I'll cover you in grace, after that, dude you're on your own."
I mean, really ... who am I?
I either believe in the totality of grace or I don't, right? I either believe it's truly unmerited, in all circumstances for all people, or I don't, right?
But what if I don't? Why don't I?
Like I touched on in my Visiting blogs from last week (Grief and Reality), I am in a place of examining everything, and grace is that place today. I don't have the answers yet, but I am--at the least--willing to ask the questions.
Every journey starts somewhere.