We are so ridiculously attached the law. I don’t mean the Law as laid down in scripture, but in our own adherence to the law that we establish in our own lives. It gives us control, or at least, we think it does. We use our concept of law to set expectations for others to live up to in our eyes. We all do it, in every aspect of our lives.
We drive with the expectation that other drivers understand the laws of traffic – drive on the right side of the road, stop at a red light, don’t recklessly speed, and yield to traffic when merging or turning. When someone violates the law, we expect consequences. Our need for justice demands them – when someone passes us over a double yellow or tailgates us because we’re not going fast enough or runs a red light in front of us, we all look around hoping that a police officer is nearby and noticed so that the person who broke our expectations of adherence to the laws of behavior on the road is caught, made to feel guilty for what they did, and then punished appropriately with a ticket. Civil society on the road demands adherence to the law because it allows society to function with appropriate actions, reactions, and consequence for failure to behave appropriately.
12 I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service, 13 though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, 14 and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. 15 The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. 16 But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life.
1 Timothy 1:12-16
God has given me an insight into grace recently, and how to apply grace in my own life. How can you show someone grace? How can you help someone understand it when the world at large does not offer grace? The world offers small-L law and demands adherence so that the world can continue to function smoothly.
Consider Christ’s command to turn the other cheek.
38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. 40 And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.
Obviously Jesus spoke in multiple layers, like an onion. Let me peel this back a bit. Obviously Christ is changing the old law from one of pure, equal justice with appropriate punishment for offense with regard to physical pain and injury caused by one’s action, but he also is changing the old law. He is providing an insight at grace for us, one more beautiful when you really consider it.
When we sin against God, we slap Christ in the face, because Christ carried our sins to the cross so that we may have reconciliation with God. God’s justice requires adherence to the Law, which we have failed miserably at keeping, but Christ adhered to perfectly. When someone sins against us, either violating God’s Law or man’s law (our own expectations whether personal or civil), it is a slap in the face to us. Our first reaction is to spring to our feet like an NBA player and hold our hands out and look for the ref to call a foul and get awarded our free throws for the perceived wrong.
When we are slapped we have many ways to respond: fight back, demand justice in order to feel whole again, or offer them grace. We are really really really good at the first two and horribly bad at the latter.
What we have to ask though is cliche. What would Jesus do? Would Jesus hold out his hands and demand an apology? Would Jesus call for a foul? Or would Jesus turn the other cheek and offer you another chance to get it right? Isn’t that what grace is?
Grace isn’t just the opportunity for the offender to try again, but it is a gift from God in another way. Grace is something that the victim can cling on to in order to feel whole again as well. By offering grace, turning the cheek, forgiving without apology (a tit for tat exchange – withholding forgiveness isn’t Christlike whatsoever), and providing an alternative to justice for small-L law, we can be relieved of the burdens of justice on the aggrieved. While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. We didn’t ask for mercy, grace, and forgiveness, but it was given without precondition. What better way to demonstrate grace and the gospel, but to turn the other cheek?
This turns our demand for justice and reparations on its head, and isn’t that exactly what Jesus said he would do?
Grace and mercy.