What is meant by the grace of God?That is the bedrock of grace—creation, life, human being. As humans, we are given a unique place in the created order. The creation stories in Genesis are ways of celebrating this original grace. In the stories, God pronounces all creation, including humankind, very good, that is, full of grace.
We also use the word grace to mean the secondary gifts we perceive in the skill and intelligence of creatures. The gospel says the boy Jesus grew in grace and favor, meaning he began to exhibit his unique personality and potential to contribute to his community. We speak of the beauty of a lion or a dancer, saying they exude an animal grace, discerned in the vitality and fluidity of their movement. When we use the word graceful to describe a creature, it's because the creature is being expressive of its God-given self.
There is another way of speaking about grace that is more about redemption than about creation. Whereas God pronounced original grace, the other side of the story is when we head off on our own, ignoring the Giver. This headstrong straying we have called original sin, meaning our freedom to choose the not so good, to turn aside from original grace. Ironically, this freedom is itself the most unique grace given humankind by God, the capacity to choose our own way, which must necessarily entail the possibility of choosing poorly. Because we have not always chosen the most graceful path, we have ended up in some miserable, blind alleys along the way. When we grasp our predicament and call for the help we had previously spurned, amazing grace comes to the rescue.
As in the beloved old hymn, the amazing kind of grace is God's gift of redemption, the grace which prompts us to repent, causing us to think again when we find ourselves in a bad way, and which prompts us to return, putting us back on a more godly path. This turning and returning we call conversion. As another simple hymn says, conversion is turning, turning, til we come round right. When we forget grace and our need of it, amazing grace prompts our memory and then upholds our will, our intention to right our lives, to make amends. The process of continual conversion is the grace most associated with the Holy Spirit. It is also called sanctifying grace. The action of this kind of grace is summarized as repentance, confession, and amendment of life. We rely on grace to make us whole, personally and communally, over time.
Redemptive grace is focused most clearly in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, whom Christians call Christ, meaning the one chosen to deliver this particular grace. We might refer to Jesus as Grace himself, as Grace in the flesh, as Grace walking around. The grace of Christ can inspire us in such a transformative way as to change our awareness of ourselves, of our potential as human beings and as humankind, and our awareness of God's gracious purpose for us and through us for all creation. It is this changed awareness which recognizes a still more specialized form of grace—the grace made available to all who choose to serve God's hope for all in Christ. This is the grace which makes us disciples and is available as spiritual power for goodness' sake. Jesus exhibited this kind of power and challenged us to do the same.
The spiritual power demonstrated by Jesus, and the saints who have sought to imitate his cooperation with God, is the energy which continues to heal the world, to bring it into more and more wholeness. This specialized grace is available to any who want to offer themselves in gratitude, to enlist in God's vision for humankind and to discover our proper place in creation as we serve. This is the grace that makes us into earth stewards for Christ's sake. This grace is the assistance given us when we choose to become the people that God means us to be, giving ourselves over to whatever goodness we are meant to create, to redeem, to sustain. This kind of grace comes with the breathtaking awareness that we are participating in the very life of God, and it's awesome good!
—The Rev. Dr. Katherine M. Lehman
I will come at this question in two ways: first, "grace" as it is defined in the Theological Word Book of the Bible, edited by Alan Richardson, and second, as I personally understand it and am blessed by it.
In the Word Book article written by N.H. Snaith, it is stated that there is a sharp distinction between the use of the word grace in the Old and New Testaments. In the Old Testament, it can be used to designate kindness and graciousness in general, with no particular tie or personal relationship between the individuals involved, and generally shown by a superior to an inferior when there is no obligation to do so. It is also used in the OT, however, to signify a specific kindness that gives pleasure to both giver and receiver, thereby implying some sort of special relationship between them. On the other hand,in the New Testament, grace indicates quite specifically God's redemptive love, which is always active to save the people and to keep them in relationship with God. In this way, it implies God's continual, unfailing faithfulness both to his covenant and to his people forever.
Yet how do we understand, how do we experience grace today? I often think of it in terms of a statement I once heard: "You are accepted." You and I are accepted, fully and totally accepted by God, now, always, without condition, without deserving, without question. To be accepted in this way means to be cherished, to be loved, to be guarded from ultimate evil. It means that who we basically are is valued, honored and respected. It means that we don't have to earn or deserve such care; it is simply there for us, ours as a gift outright. The grace of God is given to us at God's initiative. It is an expression of God's love for us, of God's desire, of God's unconditional acceptance, an expression of the very nature of God's being.
The author Frederick Buechner, in his book Wishful Thinking, puts it this way: "The grace of God means something like: Here is your life. You might never have been, but you are because the party wouldn't have been complete without you. Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don't be afraid. I am with you. Nothing can ever separate us. It's for you I created the universe. I love you. There's only one catch. Like any other gift, the gift of grace can be yours only if you'll reach out and take it. Maybe being able to reach out and take it is a gift too."
—The Rev. Margaret Gunness
Grace is basically a gift. It does not come as a result of something a person did or in recognition of an accomplishment or milestone. So, unlike a birthday or Christmas gift that one receives in recognition of an event, grace is given to us by God for no reason. All of us are recipients of the grace of God regardless of how "good" or "bad" we are.
When I think of the grace of God, I think of steadfast love, compassion, mercy—a kind of unconditional acceptance that is unlike human love. To me, Psalm 103 describes the way in which God reaches out to us with this forgiving, all-encompassing love. The other powerful illustration of "grace" is the way Jesus treated persons—accepting those who were considered outcasts by eating with them, healing them, listening and talking with them.
Grace is the unconditional love of God for us, exactly as we are, apart from our own efforts. This is the accepted definition of "grace," with the ending phrase reassuring us that we have no worries about our present state of sinfulness.
Still, my soul tells me there is a caveat.
We must accept this grace in a special way known to God and us as partners. (Once you start talking to God as You, this becomes easier and easier.) This acceptance must include, "How can I thank You?" For above all, we must return His love. Then listen and wait.
You will hear, "Love your neighbor."
The grace of God—in it we live our lives, and if there is nothing we can do to take that away, then there is nothing left for us to do except to be God's grateful people, to offer up an overflowing cup of thanksgiving back to God, a full cup of gratitude spilling out of everything we say and do. Gratitude for the good. Gratitude for the good that can come from the bad....
C.S. Lewis wrote, "I have noticed that the most balanced minds praise the most, while the cranks and the misfits and the malcontents, they are the ones who are the least grateful." When you read the words of Paul, "And so I give thanks to God always," it makes you want to go out and be less cranky yourself, be more grateful yourself. It makes you want to be less distracted by those... notions that we have to make ourselves. It makes you want to hold on for dear life to the notion that we are floating through this life on the grace of God.
—Rev. Joanna Adams
As the story goes, 16th century Anglican cleric John Bradford was walking by a criminal on the way to his execution when he spoke his now famous line, "There but for the grace of God goes John Bradford." Ironically, Bradford himself would be burned at the stake a few years later, just a month into the reign of Queen Mary.
It's a worthy sentiment, the understanding that misfortune can strike any one of us. But what does it say of God's grace? Frequently uttered whenever disaster hits, the statement implies that God has spared us for some reason, but chosen to let someone else's loved ones die. Problematic as it is for its depiction of God, the expression also reduces grace to the status of a winning lottery ticket: it's all a matter of chance.
Perhaps it's nitpicky to dwell on such distinctions, but grace is too lovely a word-and too precious a gift-to be treated so cavalierly. Grace, in reality, is the very substance of our lives. It is God's generosity in creation, and the mystery that all resides in him. Only because of this grace was Julian of Norwich able to say that "All shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well." And only because of this grace was Thomas Merton assured that God is indeed "mercy within mercy within mercy."
Grace is God's protection of his children—his umbrella. We can be aware of it or not.
The grace of God is evident all around us. One Sunday one of our priests was asked to lead services for about 100 homeless men and women. The priest started to recite the 23rd Psalm, and after a pause of just a second, every man and woman joined in the recitation. These people know well the valley of the shadow of death. I heard the grace of God that day.
Grace is the difference between Man and God. God has the ability to "forgive and forget." Man, on the other hand, has the ability to forgive, but not forget. Another difference is that God always forgives, while not all of us are capable of forgiveness.