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May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.   2 Corinthians 13:14

Early last Friday morning, while sipping coffee during my devotions, I read the verse noted above and copied it into my journal. I’d seen and heard this verse many times. The conclusion of Paul’s second letter to the church in Corinth, a benediction that references each member of the Trinity as the source of one aspect of his blessing prayer.

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. The love of God. The fellowship of the Holy Spirit.

Grace, love, fellowship. Those three words became a song I couldn’t get out of my head. That evening, during our dinner conversation, I mentioned the verse to Keith—and the three specific qualities.

“I’m having a hard time wrapping my brain around grace,” I said. “Love and fellowship make sense to me, at least on a superficial level. But what is grace? Really.”

“The love of God refers to His creation,” he said, “fellowship to guidance. Grace usually refers to salvation.”

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Many of us are confused about the meaning of words related to faith. 

“Imagine a world where grace mostly refers to prima ballerinas and sin conjures an image of molten chocolate cake. Envision a reality in which God is only shouted when your hammer misses the nail and saved refers to what you do with your 401(k),” writes Jonathan Merritt in Learning to Speak God from Scratch: Why Sacred Words Are Vanishing and How We Can Revive Them. (57) I mentioned his book in a post two years ago.

Merritt studies the meanings of faith words, including grace: “Each definition of grace I encountered, without exception, contained at least three components: 

  1. Something that flows from God to humans, usually leading to ‘salvation’
  2. Something that God offers freely—and undeserved gift
  3. Something that God offers joyfully.” (143)

Salvation, gift, joy. Then Merritt digs a little deeper. Though we need a better understanding of grace, he states, talking about it may be uncomfortable. On the receiving end, grace is lovely, free and joyful; on the giving end, grace can be costly and painful.

I thought about the old adage: It’s better to give than to receive. In this case, we all want to receive grace but rarely like to give it. It’s hard to find anyone giving grace on social media these days. Love and forgiveness? Mercy?

Justice met by mercy can seem unjust; we like to punish wrong-doers. A lot. What seems harder to accept is when someone we wouldn’t consider worthy of grace gets it anyway. As in the parable of the prodigal son or the workers in the vineyard, people who show up at the end of the day and receive a joyous welcome or get paid the same as those who labored all day or all their lives. Unfair!

I thought about another old adage: Justice is getting what you deserve, mercy is not getting what you deserve, and grace is getting what you don’t deserve.

Unfair, and thank God for that. Because I am the prodigal. I am the worker who showed up late.

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As I write this post, another song loops in my head: 

Amazing grace how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me! I once was lost but now I’m found, was blind, but now I see.

I’d like to think I now see grace on a little deeper level.