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What's So Amazing about Grace?A Ten Session Investigation of Grace
By Philip Yancey
Zondervan Publishing CompanyCopyright © 2005 Philip Yancey
All right reserved.
Chapter OneI MUST ADMIT, it took me a while to warm up to the idea of someone messing with my book! As I thought about it, though, I realized that people encounter grace in ways other than words. As I have written, I experienced grace first through nature, music, and romantic love, and only later found words to interpret and express what I had felt. Why not let some very skilled designers select passages from my book and interpret them visually? (Okay, I secretly hope that if you like this book you'll look up the full-text version of What's So Amazing About Grace? It may seem boring in contrast to this edition, but it may also fill in some gaps.)
Almost a million copies of my book have been sold, which says something about our thirst for grace. I have received thousands of letters from readers, some grateful, some desperate, some furious. One of my favorites thanks me profusely for my book What's So Annoying About Grace? I'm sure, from the tone of the letter, that the reader meant to write "Amazing" and typed "Annoying" by mistake. Many other letters, however, come from readers who truly do find grace annoying.
Must we forgive everyone? Shouldn't people have to payfor their mistakes? Would God forgive Saddam Hussein or Hitler? What about justice and fairness? How can you keep people from taking advantage of grace? These are some of the questions readers have tossed back at me. I imagine some readers will find this visual edition even more annoying because it presents the scandal of grace more directly, more "in your face."
I cannot claim that grace is fair. By definition, it's unfair: We get the opposite of what we deserve. I wrote my book to make a simple point, the same point a slave trader named John Newton made several centuries ago. Grace is amazing-the most amazing, perplexing, powerful force in the universe, I believe, and the only hope for our twisted, violent planet. If you catch a mere whiff of its scent, it could change your life forever.
"JESUS GAINED the POWER to love harlots, bullies, and ruffians ... he was able to do this only because he saw through the filth and crust of degeneration, because his eye caught the divine original which is hidden in every way-in every man! ... First and foremost he gives us new eyes.
WHEN JESUS LOVED a guilt-laden person and helped him, he saw in him an erring child of God. He saw in him a human being whom his Father loved and grieved over because he was going wrong. He saw him as God originally designed and meant him to be, and therefore he saw through the surface layer of grime and dirt to the real man underneath.
"JESUS DID NOT identify the person with his sin, but rather saw in this sin something alien, something that really did not belong to him, something that merely chained and mastered him and from which he would free him and bring him back to his real self. Jesus was able to love men because he loved them right through the layer of mud." -HELMUT THIELICKE
"TO LOVE A PERSON means to see him as God intended him to be."-FYODOR DOSTOEVSKY
A U.S. DELEGATE to the Baptist World Alliance Congress in Berlin in 1934 sent back this report of what he found under Hitler's regime: "It was a great relief to be in a country where salacious sex literature cannot be sold; where putrid motion pictures and gangster films cannot be shown. The new Germany has burned great masses of corrupting books and magazines along with its bonfires of Jewish and communistic libraries." The same delegate defended Hitler as a leader who did not smoke or drink, who wanted women to dress modestly, and who opposed pornography.
It is all too easy to point fingers at German Christians of the 1930s, southern fundamentalists in the 1960s, or South African Calvinists of the 1970s. What sobers me is that contemporary Christians may someday be judged as harshly. What trivialities do we obsess over, and what weighty matters of the law-justice, mercy, faithfulness-might we be missing? DOES GOD CARE MORE about nose rings or about urban decay? Grunge music or world hunger? Worship styles or a culture of violence?
Author Tony Campolo, who makes a regular circuit as a chapel speaker on Christian college campuses, for a time used this provocation to make a point. "The United Nations reports that over ten thousand people starve to death each day, and most of you don't give a shit. However, what is even more tragic is that most of you are more concerned about the fact that I just said a bad word than you are about the fact that ten thousand people are going to die today." The responses proved his point: in nearly every case Tony got a letter from the chaplain or president of the college protesting his foul language. The letters never mentioned world hunger.
Not long ago I received in the mail a postcard from a friend that had on it only six words, "I am the one Jesus loves." I smiled when I saw the return address, for my strange friend excels at these pious slogans. When I called him, though, he told me the slogan came from the author and speaker Brennan Manning. At a seminar, Manning referred to Jesus' closest friend on earth, the disciple named John, identified in the Gospels as "the one Jesus loved." Manning said, "If John were to be asked, 'What is your primary identity in life?' he would not reply, 'I am a disciple, an apostle, an evangelist, an author of one of the four Gospels,' but rather, 'I am the one Jesus loves.'"
What would it mean, I ask myself, if I too came to the place where I saw my primary identity in life as "the one Jesus loves"? How differently would I view myself at the end of the day?
Sociologists have a theory of the looking-glass self: you become what the most important person in your life (wife, father, boss, etc.) thinks you are. How would my life change if I truly believed the Bible's astounding words about God's love for me, if I looked in the mirror and saw what God sees?
Brennan Manning tells the story of an Irish priest who, on a walking tour of a rural parish, sees an old peasant kneeling by the side of the road, praying. Impressed, the priest says to the man, "You must be very close to God." The peasant looks up from his prayers, thinks a moment, and then smiles, "Yes, he's very fond of me." The one Jesus loves.
IN CHURCH THE OTHER SUNDAY I was intent on a small child who was turning around smiling at everyone. He wasn't gurgling, spitting, humming, kicking, tearing the hymnals, or rummaging through his mother's handbag. He was just smiling. Finally, his mother jerked him about and in a stage whisper that could be heard in a little theatre off Broadway said, "Stop that grinning! You're in church!" With that, she gave him a belt and as the tears rolled down his cheeks added, "That's better," and returned to her prayers....
Suddenly I was angry. It occurred to me the entire world is in tears, and if you're not, then you'd better get with it. I wanted to grab this child with the tear-stained face close to me and tell him about my God. The happy God. The smiling God. The God who had to have a sense of humor to have created the likes of us ... By tradition, one wears faith with the solemnity of a mourner, the gravity of a mask of tragedy, and the dedication of a Rotary badge.
What a fool, I thought. Here was a woman sitting next to the only light left in our civilization-the only hope, our only miracle-our only promise of infinity. If he couldn't smile in church, where was there left to go? -Erma Bombeck
J3:16 & 17
For God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not die but have eternal life.
For God did not send his Son into the world to be its Judge, but to be its Savior.
Excerpted from What's So Amazing about Grace? by Philip Yancey Copyright © 2005 by Philip Yancey. Excerpted by permission.
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