The ‘New Math’ of Grace! … Hello Hump Day readers. As I go down memory lane today—my 68th birthday, I couldn’t help but realize God’s grace-upon-grace that has reigned on me my whole life…and this thought came from me finishing Philip Yancy’s new book, The Scandal of Forgiveness: Grace Put to the Test. It’s no doubt in 68 years I tested God’s grace knowingly and unknowingly. I am so grateful that God forgives and continues to give me grace. And God does that for all of you as well.
I listened to a podcast with Philip Yancy (he caught my heart with his book What’s So Amazing About Grace and I’ve been an avid reader of his ever since.) He shared a few thoughts that I had never thought about and I want to share them with you. In his words:
“By my reckoning Judas and Peter stand out as the most mathematical of the disciples. Judas must have shown some facility with numbers or the others would not have elected him treasurer. Peter was a stickler for detail, always trying to pin down Jesus’ precise meaning. Also, the Gospels record that when Jesus engineered a miraculous catch of fish, Peter hauled in 153 big ones. Who but a mathematician would have bothered to count the squirming pile?”
Doesn’t that grab you—bet you never thought that Peter counted the fish! But, think about it, this goes to character for Peter who was scrupulous about almost everything. Remember his words “How many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me?—Up to seven times?” Yancy describes that as a “mathematical formula of grace.” Jesus would have nothing to do with Peter’s math, instead he told him “Not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” It’s as if Jesus was reminding his disciple that it matters not the many times you forgive because forgiveness is not the kind of thing you count on your abacus! As we see Peter later on as an Apostle, his “grace math” changes as his heart opens to the power of the Holy Spirit.
If you recall that early lesson with Peter you’ll remember Jesus launched into the story of the forgiven-then-unforgiving servant and as the plot twists we see a man forgiven who cannot forgive another. I think Jesus is giving us the lesson that forgiveness should determine our attitude toward others. Yancy says “it’s a humble awareness that God has already forgiven us a debt so mountainous that beside it any person’s wrongs against us shrink to the size of anthills. How can we not forgive each other in light of all God has forgiven us?” If you are squirming, so am I—how many times I have not wanted to forgive but “grudgingly” did so, with little heart or soul in what I did or said—ouch.
As C.S. Lewis put it, “To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable, because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.” Lewis himself fathomed the depths of God’s forgiveness in a flash of revelation as he repeated the phrase in the Apostle’s Creed, “I believe in the forgiveness of sins,” on St. Mark’s Day. His sins were gone, forgiven! “This truth appeared in my mind in so clear a light that I perceived that never before (and that after many confessions and absolutions) had I believed it with my whole heart.”
Have you ever contemplated forgiveness as a mathematical form of grace? I think we do it often and don’t even realize it! It’s like saying I’ll forgive so-and-so if they “_____” fill in your own words. This doesn’t set well with the Lord. We are to forgive no matter what—period!
I’m closing this devotion with a quote from Yancy that I hope is as powerful to you as it was to me:
“The more I reflect on Jesus’ parables, the more I like the word “scandalous” to describe the mathematics of the Gospel. I believe Jesus gave us these stories about grace in order to call us to step completely outside our tit-for-tat world of ungrace and enter into God’s realm of infinite grace. As Miroslav Volf puts it, “the economy of undeserved grace has primacy over the economy of moral deserts.” From nursery school onward we are taught how to succeed in the world of ungrace. The early bird gets the worm. No pain, no gain. There is no such thing as a free lunch. Demand your rights. Get what you pay for. I know these rules well because I live by them. I work for what I earn; I like to win; I insist on my rights. I want people to get what they deserve—nothing more, nothing less. Yet if I care to listen, I hear a loud whisper from the Gospel that I did not get what I deserved. I deserved punishment and got forgiveness. I deserved wrath and got love. I deserved debtors’ prison and got instead a clean credit history. I deserved stern lectures and crawl-on-your-knees repentance; I got a banquet spread for me.”
Dear readers, forgiveness offers an alternative to an endless cycle of resentment and revenge. Forgiveness is never an option. Yes it can be difficult, but think of the times where others forgave you—your chains were gone, you were “set free.” In the words of Jesus, let us “Go and do likewise.” Remember, we all live and love imperfectly. Therefore, only forgiveness will set us free. AMEN.