Tuesday, we got the word that our school had been re-accredited for another five years. A school parent congratulated me on that accomplishment, and I responded, “thank you. God was gracious.”
And, He was. But, as I reflected on my response later, it bothered me. What if God had chosen to work through that accreditation team to deny our re-accreditation? Would God not have been gracious then? Does God only give us His grace when we get “good” things?
Sometimes I’m guilty of using “God’s grace” as a synonym for “everything turned out exactly the way I hoped it would.” Got to be careful with that one: in that case, God is just a cosmic vending machine: I pray, push the button, what I asked for comes out: it’s grace.
There’s no question that God allows encouraging things to happen, acts of grace that, on their face, appear good—as James said, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of Lights….” The problem is not with whether grace is good; the problem is with our perception of “good.”
God does give grace when He showers earthly blessing on me. But, He gives an even greater grace. That greater grace comes in the face of trials and suffering. In this sinful, fallen world, my pride and blindness to God’s purifying Hand in my life ought to keep me in darkness forever. But, God has worked it out so that His grace breaks through the blackness of this world and my soul to change my life, change my heart, and give me everything that I need to prepare me to live and work as His heir in the New Jerusalem, the world after this one. But, it almost never comes when I am praised, or receive an award, or things go exactly as I planned. God’s greater grace usually rains down on me at the end of a barb, or when I’m the object of derision, or when it’s all completely falling apart.
Paul understood God’s greater grace. “He said to me, ‘my grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” 2 Cor. 12:9. Thus, He could consider himself a “partaker of grace” from a prison cell.
Bonhoeffer understood God’s greater grace, too. He said that “discipleship means allegiance to the suffering Christ, and it is therefore not at all surprising that Christians should be called upon to suffer. In fact it is a joy and a token of His grace…to bear the cross proves to be the only way of triumphing over suffering. This is true for all who follow Christ, because it was true for Him.” (The Cost of Discipleship).
So, how much better off are my kids if they learn now that God is gracious through the roses AND the thorns? What if, instead of affirming life’s little injustices in their lives, thereby empowering my kids to be, as George Bernard Shaw bemoans, “a feverish, selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy,” I help them see that the bad test grade, the struggling friendship, the sick loved one, the injury that takes them out of commission, is really God’s greater grace, His gracious gift of love for His precious child that He desires to fire and mold and hammer and forge into the mighty warrior for Jesus Christ who will be the fierce heir to the Kingdom of Heaven, or, as Shaw says, “a force of nature?” How much more able would they be to ride the rollercoaster of this life, counting every second as joy, even when their hearts are broken?
God, help me to write Your greater grace on the hearts of my children.