A few years ago on Twitter, a big-deal Christian author posted an article she’d written. Its topic overlapped with the book I’d just released, so I commented and included a photo of my cover. It was my first book, you see, and I knew that marketing was important, even though I had basically no idea how to market anything and generally ended up flailing awkwardly on social media like Steve Carrell’s character in Anchorman.
“LOUD NOISES,” he yells. “LOUD NOISES.”
I figured she’d ignore me, if not delete my comment entirely. A block wasn’t out of the question.
Instead, she retweeted me and added a kind comment to boot.
Grace is shocking. Despite my decades in the church and long years in seminary—or perhaps because of them—it still surprises me almost every time. God showers us with unearned, undeserved, unmerited love and sometimes other people do too. It’s scandalous and astonishing. It’s divine.
In Leif Enger’s novel Virgil Wander, the title character has suffered a serious concussion and as a result his memory is a bit wobbly. He’s surprised when Jerry, an unemployed and unreliable sort of man, shows up at his house with an odd request.
“I loaned you a socket wrench set,” he says. Even though Virgil has a concussion, he knows he didn’t borrow any tools from Jerry. For one thing, he already owns several sets of wrenches. For another, Jerry isn’t a person he’d go to for tools if he needed them.
Yet Virgil sees something behind Jerry’s eyes. A sadness, a searching, a yearning. Jerry needs tools to try to start working again, and without work he can’t afford new tools of his own. Virgil makes a split-second decision.
“I remember now. These are yours.”
This act of grace transforms Jerry’s life. When we meet him later in the novel he is a different man.
Grace renews from the inside out. We expect to be deleted and instead we are retweeted. We are prepared to be sent away with an empty toolbox, bubbling with self-hatred, yet we are given one overflowing with wrenches we could never afford.
This is the generosity of the God who meets us in Christ. While we were yet sinners—deliberate, willful, wayward, consciously sinning sinners—God said: Here’s grace. Here’s my Son, taking your sin upon himself. Upon myself. Taking it all away, not because you’ve been good enough or smart enough or sorry enough or finally gotten your act together, but because I love you too much to do anything else.
This love makes me want to be the kind of person who fills up the toolboxes of others out of pure gratitude, whether they deserve it or not. Perhaps especially when they don’t. But too often I play score-keeper and point-tallier. They never returned that book, said they were sorry, remembered to be kind. I keep my distance and hold my grace tightly until it crumbles to sand in my fist. The merest breeze blows it away.
And then comes the retweet. My own refilled toolbox. The kindness that, according to Stanley Hauerwas, is the touch that otherwise wouldn’t be there. I am chastened and ashamed until God lifts my gaze once again to remind me:
There’s grace for that too.