Most have probably heard the expression: “But for the grace of God, go I” It is a saying that recognizes that anyone could easily find themselves in circumstances similar to those of some troubled and suffering individual they observe. It is an expression of sympathy and equality with those of low estate. I have often thought about this message as I try to escape the impulse to judge another person too harshly for some shortcoming or misdeed.
The basic sentiment of this saying is very healthy in my mind, but I have to question the idea that what amounts to the luck of the draw somehow results from the “grace of God”. Is the grace of God what determines who suffers and who prospers instead? Is that how divine grace operates, by bestowing blessing randomly on some people and allowing others to suffer ill?
Personally, I find within the message of Christian Orthodoxy a very strong suggestion that birth circumstances are a strong determinant of whether you enjoy God’s grace or not. Those people who spring from western European culture, are raised in a good home, and who learn sound Christian doctrine are favored with God’s grace. Others may slip into the benefit of that grace but the likelihood of that is small. God’s grace is supposedly doled out to certain ethnic groups much more so than others. It is and has been a common theme of Christianity for ages.
But really, is that the true concept of divine grace, a benefit which accrues to the fortunate few, those lucky by place of birth and a predisposition to Christian Orthodoxy? Does that concept of grace create a picture of God as the unbiased Father of all as proclaimed by Paul? (Acts 17:28)
For divine grace to be a reality, its benefit must extend to everyone alike. Christian Orthodoxy’s story of grace never measures up to that equality of opportunity. For that reason alone we should see that the institutional church’s grace message is dead wrong. It simply cannot be right because it preferentially includes some and excludes others. That is not the God of love that Jesus introduced in the parable of the Prodigal Son. Grace is either totally gracious and equally available or it ceases to be grace at all.