Human Judgment vs. Divine Grace


Many of us have a tendency to feel certain that we know what the limits of divine grace should be for ourselves and others. Such "certainty" is usually based on human ideas of fairness and justice that we have embraced as normative after observing how things work between men in the world we live in. But when it comes to the grace of God, we nearly always fall short in recognizing the depth of His love for our fallen race, collectively and individually.

Sometimes we may be tempted to rail against the seeming "unfairness" of the unmerited favor He shows towards people who we feel do not deserve it. An example might be the apparently real conversion of a man like David Berkowitz. During the long summer of 1977 Berkowitz serially murdered several people in New York City while sending notes to police signed "the Son of Sam". He was eventually captured and sentenced to life in prison without parole. Years later this one-time serial killer cried out to God for forgiveness and found it in Jesus Christ. Since that time he has shown the fruits of real repentance and even become the head chaplain of prisoners in the correctional facility that will be his home for the rest of his earthly life.

Some Christians do know "from whence they came" and can identify enough with a man like Berkowitz that they rejoice at his salvation. But others wonder, secretly or otherwise, why a serial killer, a rapist, a terrorist, etc., should ever be the object of saving grace. Some crimes seem so heinous to us that we feel like they should be included under the heading of "unpardonable sins;" doubting the sincerity of such perpetrators' conversions or, worse, resenting them.

The core of this issue lies in our understanding of the nature of the God we worship. We know that He is "not mocked"-the Bible tells us so. Vengeance most definitely is His. The Scripture also says, however, that "He has no pleasure in the death of the wicked;" He does take vengeance, but He does not do so in the fashion of sinful human beings. Truth be told, we are often inclined to enjoy seeing "bad people" get "what they deserve." Scores of Hollywood movies and television series feature the "bad guys" getting their just deserts in violent scene after violent scene. We like revenge. It makes us feel better about ourselves. It makes us feel superior to the "really wicked" people of the world.

But God has no such spurious need to feel morally superior to others because He is the only One who truly is morally superior. Paradoxically, the one Being in the universe who has the right to condemn the wicked (which, according to the Bible and our own deepest consciences, includes every one of us) would prefer not to. He would rather shed His loving grace on us first, in the hope that we might repent and return to Him.

And sometimes the depth of that loving grace astounds and discomforts us. We are like the older brother in the prodigal son story. We are good and do not feel that we are getting the reward for that studied goodness which we deserve. Meanwhile, God is letting the likes of "the Son of Sam" into the Kingdom. It seems patently unfair.

Well, love, divine love anyway, is unfair and unapologetically so. If God's generosity compels Him to pay all the day laborers the same amount no matter when they started working, then so be it. If His perfect love leads him to embrace a person we think deserves nothing but death and lead him or her towards repentance, what is that to us? We might do well to remember the grace we ourselves were shown when we were hell-bound worshippers of anything and everything but the one true God; grace that He continues to lavish on us every day of our lives.

Rather than trying to set some kind of personal limit on the grace of God, it is far better for us to look up to Heaven and thank that God for the unbelievably "unfair" generosity of His love displayed in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ who "takes away the sins of the world."

© Shea Oakley. All rights reserved.

Shea Oakley is a freelance Christian writer from Ridgewood, New Jersey.

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