Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Grace is loving someone more than they deserve?

Seen on a church sign in Seattle last Friday: "Grace is loving someone more than they deserve."

What do you think? Do you agree? Disagree? Is that a fitting description of grace? What's your initial reaction? Or would you even pause to ponder it if you drove by the same sign?

Personally, I think they got it wrong. For a couple reasons.

The first issue would be this word "deserve." The above definition begs the question of how much love do people deserve?

It may help you to know this is a Lutheran Church. And if I may interpolate, Lutherans, being generally reformed in their theology, come at it from this place: Since we're all sinners, and since the wages of sin is death, the only thing we deserve is the wrath of God leading to death. It's the old "that saved a wretch like me" theology. We're all worms destined to destruction, yet God chooses to love some of us, and save some of us, and this is "Grace."

On the same token, we all mistreat each other. We all hurt each other. We're all jerks to each other. Some more than others, mind you. Usually those other people are bigger jerks than we are. So we show "Grace" by loving them, even when they're such jerks that they don't deserve it. Thus, we arrive at the church's sign: Grace is loving someone more than they deserve.

I think that's all missing the point. We have to go back further than "the wages of sin is death." We have to go back further than the fall. We have to go back to creation. Which reminds us that all humans were "made in the image of God." Later, the psalmist, reflecting on creation, wrote that humans are just a "little lower than the angels." And all good theology flows from Christology - looking at the world through the lens of Jesus Christ. What do we learn by bringing Jesus into the conversation? "For God so loved the world. . ." That Jesus so loved this world, he would allow himself to be beaten, crucified, and killed in order to save it. "Greater love has no one than this, that they lay down their life for their friends." And "God demonstrated his love for us in this: While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us."

Okay, our Reformed brethren (and sistren (?)) are saying. That's the definition of grace - we were loved, even when we didn't deserve it. We deserved wrath (as if those two could be played off of each other).

I would push back and say because we're created in the image of God, we deserve nothing but love. Although that may sound pompous, so maybe a better way would be putting it because we're created in the image of God, we're completely loveable. God's wrath does not negate his love; I believe God loves us even when he's upset about what we're doing.

Therefore, grace cannot be loving somebody more than they deserve, because we all deserve love and nothing else.

Personalizing it, since God loves me and God loves you, I deserve to be loved by you and you deserve to be loved by me. No matter what you do to me, you still bear the image of God, you are still loved by God, and therefore you deserve to be loved by me. I cannot love you more than you deserve, because you deserve the full measure of my love. That's biblical. Even our greatest enemies deserve the full measure of our love, since Christ loved even those who crucified him. The posture of the Christ-follower is a posture that loves all others, not more than they deserve, but because they deserve to be loved.

I could also quibble with the "more than" part. . .because I'm not sure you can measure love. Can you love someone as much as they deserve, nor more, no less? Can I give you 26% of my love, because that's what you deserve? Can I give my wife 100% of my love, and my enemy 50% of my love? Biblically, love is an either/or. You either love someone or you don't. There aren't different levels of love. I either love you as you deserve, or I don't. I either face you and say "you are beloved," or I withhold love from you, which, in effect, says "I don't really love you, I'm just sort of acting like it."

So, why does any of this matter?

Because it makes a difference in how you treat your neighbor. Saying "I'm loving you even though you don't deserve it" always comes from a posture of separation, of exclusion. It subtly sneaks in the thought that somehow we're superior;"aren't we special for showing them grace." Even "God loves us more than we deserve" so often leads to unhealthy posturing. How dare any of us, loved of God, created in the image of God, grovel and say "I'm such a loser, such a worm, God hates me. . ." If you begin from the place of "nobody deserves love, but God loves and so shall we," your worldview is the polar opposite of what I believe is the correct understanding: we all carry around the imago Dei, we are all already loved, and always have been loved by God, we are all deserving of the full measure of love." In other words, we begin from a place recognizing worth and value in each other, rather than forcing ourselves to "love people more than they deserve."

So than what is grace? Perhaps a more truer definition would be, at least of us, loving someone in spite of how we may currently feel about them. Or recognizing that all are the beloved of God, no matter how they think about or treat us.

And from God's perspective? Perhaps simply that love is his nature, wrath a temporary action necessitated by our rebellion. But wrath never supersedes nor overcomes love. God sometimes, of necessity, shows wrath, but he is always love. Because God created us, we deserve to be loved.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Ok, I understand this is a serious post but I just had to say - I know someone named Grace so when I read your first sentance, well, it didn't exactly work in my head the way you meant it to. :-)

Lori said...

I completely agree with you on this and just had a discussion about this with someone the other day. While I believe it is true that we don't deserve God's forgiveness, I think we are worthy of His love and the love of others because we were made by Him. God places great value on us because He created us with love and in His image.

Anonymous said...

i agree with what your trying to say.... but i think your reversing the issue.... "some vessels are made for destruction" WE DESERVE WRATH STILL... thats what sinners deserve.... the moment Adam fell we no longer deserved LOVED we accepted it....

You dont love others more than they DESERVE....

TRY loving OTHERS even when they dont deserve it.

Jesus called the PHARASEES VIPERS that is not being a JERK that is CALLING IT LIKE IT IS... but it is STILL LOVING THEM IN SPITE OF THEM not being able to accept it.

NO if everyone deserved love then people would start demanding it.

YOU are supposed to be humble .... you cannot be humble if you think LOVE IS A BIRTHRIGHT....

you honestly sound female or effeminate... TRULY not as a putdown.

I DO NOT DESERVE LOVE... I ACCEPT IT BECAUSE I AM HUMBLE ENOUGH TO KNOW JESUS CHRIST IS LORD...

NO ONE DESERVES LOVE... saying EVERYONE DESERVES it is like saying everyone is GOING to heaven.

Some people rebel against GOD...in FACT all people do... but some people will never allow themselves to be HUMBLED or BROKEN of their pride.

Pride= Rebellion = seperation from GOD because of the assumption that it is deserved instead of a GIFT.

its like being mad because you didn't get a christmas gift. Its spoiled little prideful children that need a couple healthy BEATDOWNS!!!!

Anonymous said...

start with the assumption

NO ONE DESERVES LOVE...

then its all inclusive again.

LOVE IS A GIFT.

NOT A RIGHT.

Then you cannot be "hurt" when someone doesn't "love" you...

If everyone got what you considered Love who would ever "choose" to accept Jesus christ as lord?

They would assume Jesus died for me because I DESERVED IT!!!

Blasphemy is a ten commandment.

GOD IS LOVE.

WE DESERVE SEPERATION FROM GOD/LOVE.

WE are humble because we accept love WE DO NOT DESERVE.

By saying everyone DESERVES it you saying CHRIST died FOR NOTHING. You eliminate the need to have FAITH IN JESUS CHRIST, because your BRETHERN and SISTEREN can sustain you through your hard times.

JESUS and the HOLY SPIRIT are your example and GUIDE....

Not pastor X or sister Y....

there are people who need to be rebuked (spirits thereof) you eliminate spiritual influences and call them nonexistant by saying these things.

REBUKE is LOVE... YOU REBUKE THE SIN... regardless if that person is "chrstian" from your perspective and when they cannot except love and are DEAD in their sins or GUILT they reach out to JESUS and KNOW that he is their savior.

Giving everyone love because they deserve it is a recipe for social christianity without the ULTIMATE SACRIFICE for sin.... where people think because their life is "fun" and "meaningful" (for example GANGS) that GOD/JESUS has changed their life.... but that person has never had FAITH that JESUS is their only HOPE.

No ... it doesn't say in the bible we deserve love.... it is RIGHTEOUS to love those even in their sins... but not because they deserve it.

Social conditioning/deception/self enlightenment/blasphemy/pride/anti-christ

formula for REVELATION.... right before ARMAGEDDON

YOU DO NOT DESERVE LOVE AND NEITHER DO I

BUT

YOU WOULD BE STUPID NOT TO ACCEPT THIS FREE GIFT.