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  • Dan Arsenault

What is Grace, Anyway?

C.S. Lewis was asked, “What is the unique contribution of Christianity?” Without missing a beat, he answered, “Thatʼs easy. Grace.”

The world operates on the premise of performance. We expect to pay for what we get and get paid for what we do. Winners are rewarded, and losers get the axe. The endless wars of history are about payback. Grace is the unnatural response of unconditional love and forgiveness instead of revenge, and even justice. Grace is unmerited favor. Grace is so unusual that itʼs better illustrated than explained.

In 1987 an IRA bomb exploded in a small Irish town, during a Protestant gathering on Veteransʼs Day. Gordon Wilson, a devout Methodist, was buried with his daughter under five feet of concrete. Marie, twenty years old, died holding her fatherʼs hand. Her last words were, “Daddy, I love you very much.”

A newspaper later proclaimed, “No one remembers what the politicians had to say, but no one who heard Gordon Wilson will ever forget...his grace towered over the miserable justification of the bombers.”

“I have lost my daughter, but bitterness is not going to bring Marie back. I shall pray every night for forgiveness and reconciliation.” Later, Wilson led a attempt for peace between Catholics and Protestants. Extremists who were planning a retaliation were dissuaded by the grace demonstrated by Wilson, who wrote a book about Marieʼs life, in which he repeatedly said, “Love is the bottom line.”

He met with IRA officials, expressing his love and forgiveness. The Irish Republic responded in kind. They made Gordon Wilson a member of their Senate. When he died in 1995, the Irish Republic, Northern Ireland, and all of Great Britain mourned together.

I am well aware that the words of Jesus, “By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, that you love one another,” is often not what those who confess Him are known for. My appeal is that we do not reject the Teacher because of the behavior of the worst of His students.

A survey on secular college campuses asked students what they remember most about the teachings of Christ. They said, “Love your enemies.” I am not always consistent in my practice of grace. But Jesus was. He gave us “the gospel of grace.”

His love and forgiveness are ours for the taking. Justice was carried out in His death for our “ungrace.”

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