But for the grace of God
The other day, while discussing some not unsubstantial family problems, someone asked me, “How is it, Josh, that you turned out the way you did?”
I assumed this was meant to reflect positively on me, and replied, “Only by the grace of God.”
In retrospect, my response sounds a little trite; it’s the sort of insincere response that people often give without thinking much about what exactly they’re saying. But I meant it. I mean it. I’m not sure of much in this life, but I am sure of this: I could very easily have walked a different path to end up in a much darker place and as a far worse person. And I’m not on my current path—a path of faith and hope and grace and life—because of anything I did. No, I’m walking this path in spite of anything I did. Left to myself, left to my pain, my past, my family, my circumstances and the natural consequences of my too often foolish decisions, I would not be here. But for the grace of God.
So I mean it when I say it. Which brings up another question: Why? Why have I experienced an inordinate amount of God’s grace? I’m not asking what exactly about me merits God’s grace, mind you. This is a question of what God intends me to do now that he’s been gracious. Surely God, who has given much grace, will require much in return.
In his recent, controversial biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Eric Metaxas wrote:
This was a very radical and dramatic thing to say, but it is the perfectly logical conclusion to the idea that apart from God’s grace, one can do nothing worthwhile… What did it mean to be ‘grasped’ by God? And why did Bonhoeffer already begin to have a deep sense that God had ‘grasped him,’ had chosen him for something?
Now, by no means do I consider myself on a par with Bonhoeffer, a great theologian and brave man who was executed for his role in the attempted assassination of Hitler. But I ask myself the exact same questions. Why has God blessed me? Why has God given me so much grace? Why has God grasped me?
The answer is found, in part, in Genesis. A few days ago, my daily reading brought me to the story of Abram. More specifically, to God’s promise to Abram: “And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing” (Gen. 12.2). Here, God’s blessing is intended that Abram might bless others. So on the basic level, it’s clear that I have been given much grace so that I, too, will bless others.
Of course, that still doesn’t tell me what it looks like, exactly. I’ll probably wrestle with that for the rest of my life. But I am increasingly convinced that, however God uses me, he will use me in three areas:
1. In my family.
2. In the local church.
3. In my vocation.
I’m still trying to figure out what each of these means, and I’m sure I’ll touch on each of them, to one degree or another, on this blog. But for now it’s enough. I’m satisfied knowing that God has grasped me and placed me here. And I feel the incredible weight of the burden—there is much responsibility here, and I do not want to fail.
On the other hand, I’m not entirely sure I want to succeed. It all sounds great when we say that God blesses us to bless others, but we mustn’t forget one of Bonhoeffer’s most famous lines: “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” I believe Pastor Dietrich is right, and it scares the hell out of me.
In any case, onward.