Friday, November 2, 2012

On Faith and Grace

Faith is the answer.  Or is it?  

It's easy to say "just have faith" when things are going terribly.  When times are tough, it's nice to say, "Just believe."  But I have to be honest: while faith gives me great hope for eternity, it's not a tremendous help today.  Them's the breaks.  And for awhile, I thought that meant my faith was broken.  I thought that meant I was doing faith right.  I wasn't getting out of this salvation agreement the full extent of God's faith clause.  Because I have rested on faith and it's not changing today.  It doesn't make this an easier place to love.

Enter Tenth Avenue North and a little song called Losing.

Oh, Father won't you forgive them?  They don't know what they've been doin'.
Oh, Father give me grace to forgive them.  Cuz I feel like the one losin'.

The word faith isn't in there.  But for the first several times I heard this song on my radio, I didn't know that.  For the first few weeks after hearing it, singing it around the house, I always sang faith, not grace.  Give me faith to forgive them, cuz I feel like the one losin'.

(This is a common problem for me, and I write a monthly column of Lyrical Lingo - words of worship we sing and don't know we're singing, words we get wrong, what we're missing when we don't dive into the words, and so on.  God has uniquely qualified me for this.)

I loved the music, but the words weren't doing anything for me.  It's not that I was thinking of a particular "them" or trying to find the peace in my life that would come from a particular forgiveness.  My problem was that word faith.  That very word that wasn't even in the lyrics.

Give me faith to forgive them.  Give me the confident assurance that if I forgive them, I'm not giving up on this whole thing and that it will somehow work out.  Give me the belief that if I forgive them, there's still justice.  Give me the faith that You, God, are taking care of this and that even if I choose not to take care of this, You will still take care of this and I will be satisfied with the outcome.

Faith, sometimes, is this thing we use to pass the buck.  To toss our problems onto God and wash our hands of them, throwing our cares to the wind and deciding that whatever happens, we're not going to be the ones to do it and it must be God's will or it wouldn't have happened.  Faith has become our fall-back, and I don't think it was meant to be.  I think that's why we're dissatisfied with faith.

Because we've been using this thing we call "faith" to disengage from our lives and make them someone else's problem.  Namely, God's problem.  Then we're stuck trying to make sense of the God we put our faith in and this mess of life still happens but we told Him we believed in Him, and so if we want to have faith, then this is it.  But this isn't all that great.  So what good is faith?

Then I heard the words again.  Give me grace to forgive them.

Grace, not faith.

Grace is an invitation to engage in your world.  It's an invitation to embrace your heart and your life and your mess.  Grace takes whatever the situation is and brings you to meet it.  That's what we need more of.

Faith sounds nice, but in this broken world, it's not enough.  At least, not for me.  I believe in God just about as much as I can possibly believe in God.  I rest on His promises and His presence and His gift just about as much as I can possibly rest on His promises and His presence and His gift.  I trust His wisdom just about as much as I can trust His wisdom.  But that does not change the reality of one broken thing in this whole world.  The answer to losing is not to believe in God more.

The answer to losing is meeting this world with grace.  It's embracing God, choosing love, extending mercy, offering forgiveness and abounding in grace.  Grace acknowledges the reality of things that suck, accepts the pain of things that hurt, thirsts for the mercy that heals, rejoices in the majesty of untarnished beauty, swallows a hard pill of forgiveness, chokes down the even harder pill of needing forgiven, and embraces the fullness of life as we know it in the light of God's amazing grace, which gives us the strength to extend our own.  It doesn't cast this world aside with a trite, "God is the answer.  Just have faith."  No.  Grace draws God down and determines to be His answer - that is, His love - in the flesh.

To the words of the song, if I have faith to forgive them, I'm passing my vengeance over to God.  But if I have grace, I engage with my woundedness, take responsibility for both my hurt and my response, think and reflect and pray over what such things as my faith would tell me is best, what wisdom comes from faith and from having received mercy, and then...I choose love.  That is grace.  Grace is the invitation to stop waiting on things to work out and start working them out.  In love.  By faith.

It's easy to think the answer is faith.  That if we just have faith, just believe a little more, things will be ok.  But I think the real answer - at least, the answer to this place - is grace.

(Losing by Tenth Avenue North is available pretty much everywhere, as is their CD The Struggle.    The song is also on frequent replay on public Christian radio stations K-Love and AirOne, to name a few.  They have most recently been featured on my Christmas list.  Tenth Avenue North has not given me anything for the promotion of their work; they likely are not aware that I, in particular, exist.  But I thank them for inspiring these thoughts on faith and grace, as well as many nights of embarrassingly loud shower singing and awkward moments of stoplight worship where the drivers in the other cars have no idea what I'm singing so passionately about.  It's grace, folks.  That's what it is.)

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