The Jagged Little Pill Of Grace

When Abundant Grace Exposes Our Tendency Toward Self-Reliance

Cali Yee / 8.18.21

Vitamins are good for you. Or so I am told. And because I am an “adult,” I’ve graduated from the Flintstone gummy bear vitamins to the little oblong pills without any taste —  good for the body, but impossible to consume.

Grace is good too. I know that for certain. But just like the vitamins, it is difficult to ingest. In a society that values meritorious efforts, how can one accept the undeserved gift of love and mercy? But there is another, less obviously part of grace that presents its own challenges. When something is freely given to us it is easier to take it for granted. And as humans, we know that when we feel taken advantage of, we usually ditch the person like a popsicle stand. 

But God doesn’t ghost us like an unrequited romantic interest — in other words, He is not contained by the box of human standards. His love transcends mere human judgments and can be captivated by us, like the father in the story of the prodigal son. A son who spent all of his inheritance and took his father for granted. A father filled with joy at the sight of his broken, but beloved child. And another son who felt that his father was too forgiving of his brother’s actions.

We probably know this familiar story, but Francis Spufford pushes its consequences further, closer to home:

…it drops away, all the homely talk of farms and brothers, because this is about something else, a love that deliberately does not protect itself, a love that is radically unprotected on purpose, and is never going to stop to ask whether the younger son, like many junkies briefly boomeranging back to the nest, will tomorrow steal the silver spoons and the digital camera and be off again to the fun-bucket. A love that does not come naturally in a world of finite farms, and real inheritances, and exhaustible parents; a love which therefore can only be like a father running across the fields to kiss his ruined child. But a love we might need anyway, if we’re to get beyond deserving […]

We too will need sometimes to be met on the road by a love that never shudders at the state we’re in, never hesitates to check what it can bear, but only cries: this is my son, who was lost and is found.

God is not surprised by our sin, nor is He waiting in the wings for us to screw up again. God’s concept of forgiveness is different from our own. It doesn’t say “forgive, just don’t forget,” it says our sins are forgiven and cast as far as the east is from the west. Our sins are cleared away even before the moment we glance back at our gracious Father.

This difference is not easy to accept because it defies human logic and reason. Grace is free and everlasting, but in this world nothing comes without a price and everything is finite — forgiveness needs to be earned and there is only so much forgiveness to go around. That isn’t the case when it comes to God. Grace is not earned by brownie points, gold stars, or through reading self-help books. Forgiveness is given despite the fact that we do not deserve it. 

His grace is a hard pill to swallow. It’s a jagged little pill that exposes just how much we try to rely upon ourselves (at our own demise).

This isn’t to say that we should take God’s grace for granted (hello from Paul in Romans 6!). But there is grace for those who do take Him for granted (as we all do at some point in our lives). God can handle our selfishness, our sin. There is hope in knowing that God’s forgiveness is not bound by the limits of how much we think we should or should not be forgiven. Our ability to love has no bearing on the love of Christ on the cross. God’s love is also not dependent upon how lovable we are. 

Grace may be difficult to accept. But our ability to receive it and understand how it works does not blunt its power. Like a vitamin, we are given it every day. It may not always go down smoothly, but it still warms the heart. 


The featured image is an acrylic painting by Leon Keer.