Donald McCullough is president of Salt Lake Theological Seminary and a former president and professor of theology and preaching at San Francisco Theological Seminary. He is the author of seven other books including Say Please, Say Thank You: The Respect We Owe One Another and The Wisdom of Pelicans: A Search for Healing at the Water's Edge. In this well-written volume, McCullough takes a hard look at grace. Not many others have dealt with the negative feelings that people seem to have about this theological virtue and linchpin of Christianity.
If we observe ourselves very long and very deeply, we will see that it is often more difficult for us to receive than it is for us to give. As Mccullough puts it: "When a muscled arm of mercy lifts us by the scruff of the neck and sets us in a new place, a better place we neither earned nor deserved, we're likely to protest that, given time, we could have gotten ourselves there, thank you very much, and without rough treatment." It is even harder for us to accept when grace happens to someone else, especially a person who seems totally undeserving of God's largesse. But the reign of God topples our concepts of fairness or appropriateness. Recall Jesus' parable about the last being the first and then ponder Jesus forgiving the thief on the cross at the last minute. The point of both examples: God refuses to play by our rules. McCullough elaborates:
"The Bible, taken as a whole, is the unfolding story of grace: God creates the universe; God chooses Abraham and his descendents to be 'a light to the nations'; God liberates Israel from Egyptian bondage; God stays committed to humanity through the triumphs and travails of the centuries until eventually, in the fullness of time, God sends Jesus the Messiah, who proclaims the good news of grace, getting himself killed in the process; and God, ever taking the initiative, ever working through the failures of the world, raises Jesus from death, and through that resurrection offers life to all.
"Grace, then, whether we like it or not, is the central theme of the Christian faith. It is the innermost truth of all that will abide, the cause and the goal of all things. This grace, when at last it takes hold of us and leaves us no choice but to acknowledge it, turns everything upside down."
Although many Christians still envision God mainly as a Judge, God is the grace-giving one who liberates. And all of this love has nothing to do with merit or our works:
"Even before the ink on the blueprints for the universe was dry, God chose you to be part of the family. In an exuberance of grace, God decided that you'd be home free before you were born, that you'd be found before you had a chance to get lost; this means you already have 'every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places,' which means there isn't a single bright shining angel that has anything better than you have. There is no harp-strumming, bliss-bearing, joy-filled resident of heaven that's got anything more than is already yours."
McCullough has given us a rounded and enticing overview of grace something so precious that we would do well to take it to heart.