Vent frustration with grace

When I was first asked to write a response to last week’s “Letter to the Editor,” I almost turned the offer down. I thought it would be nearly impossible for me to write a column that didn’t condemn Jake Hook for the opinion he shared in his letter. It would be easy to turn his argument back on him, to tell him to take his own advice and “gulp down a cup of humility.”

Instead, I want to take this opportunity to call the JBU community (and myself) to something we often do not like to think about: extending grace to others.

Giving others grace is not easy. It hurts and seemingly leaves us at a disadvantage. Yet the truth is that being gracious actually draws us into greater life than the alternative because it draws us into Christ-likeness.

Let me start to explicate this claim by telling a story. Last summer, I spent a month in Ireland with the Family and Human Services study abroad program. Halfway through the trip, I was fed up with most of the members of the group. I needed to get away, so I left the Manor to take a walk. My friend, Adam Hodge, joined me. Hodge let me vent my frustration and anger. But when I was finished, he said something I did not expect.

“It’s hard,” he said. “But when someone wrongs me or makes me angry I always have to think, ‘there is a reason this person is saying or doing these hurtful things,’ and then I am compelled to give them grace.”

Hodge was challenging me to give people the benefit of the doubt, to extend them grace even though—or perhaps because—that was the last thing I wanted to do.

The easy thing to do when a professor or student treats us poorly, or a friend says something rude to us, or a housemate forgets to clean his dishes every day, is to react out of anger and selfishness.

God does not call us to that. Instead Paul in Philippians chapter two, says, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.”

Similarly, Jesus in Luke chapter nine says, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.”

If we take these two charges seriously, it means we must extend grace to those who wrong us and—however counterintuitive it may seem—humble ourselves before them.

There are three things I know about grace.

First: We are only able to extend grace because we have been given grace. To refuse grace to another individual is arrogance of the worst kind because this attitude says, “God may have extended (and be extending) me grace, but this doesn’t mean I need to extend grace to others.”

Second: We don’t need grace from others to preserve any sense of well being, because we dwell within the grace of God.

Third: A real extension of grace hurts. Grace is the sacrifice of oneself and one’s selfish desires. Unsurprisingly, this sacrifice does
not feel fantastic. Still, we are all being called—students and professors alike—to follow the example of Jesus and extend grace . . . especially to those who offend us.