Grace, the Grace of God that is, is so hard to define - so hard to define so sharply that is - that when you hold that definition of Grace clearly in your mind - all you see is that image that so succinctly and perfectly depicts Grace that you can literally see nothing else. Need an example of what I mean by the above? Think of the word love. What basic, simple image comes to mind? A heart right? Simple. Clear. I mean - you can take issue with the marketing of Valentine's Day - the reduction of true/real love in media to some glitzy, Hollywood version ... but still ... if you want to communicate love quickly, simply, universally even almost - this is your go to symbol.
But what about the Grace we get from God? What's the basic, no frills, works because everyone gets it sort of symbol for Grace? Well ... if you Google search it - like I did ... you get a bunch of word-art. That's it! Sometimes - the word-art of sunny fields and happy doves isn't quite enough - so a little sub-title about gets written in.
Doesn't that about sum it up though?
And I'm with everyone - right? Because I didn't think "oh - let's insert that super awesome and totally clear image of Grace that I already thought of because I can only think of that graphic is the only one that always comes to my mind whenever I think the word Grace" ... nope - I knew I had nuttin - so I googled it. Telling - right?
I mean - don't tell me - "well - you see Amy Jo - Grace is so hard to define." Because I will say back to you (probably a little sarcastically) [in a high, nasal, whinny voice] "Hmmmyeah. It's so hard! ... [in your best Bourne movie trailer voice.] Define love."
How is it that 2,000 years in - this is the pickle we face? What could be the image of Grace? Or maybe this is just my problem - what image comes to mind when you picture Grace?
And - yes - just to admit it - I'm doing that thing with the capital letters again - where I'm using a capital G to signify not the grace of a great dancer, or the grace of a court-official, or gracing someone's party with yourself ... but the Grace that God gives "a wretch like me" so we can not only experience His forgiveness but sing about amazingness.
I think that there are two reasons why we don't have a simple, read, go-to image for Grace - like we do for Love or baby, or school, or any of those other big concepts that mean a lot to us all.
Reason number 1: Grace - however you define it is deep into the theological weeds.
Reason number 2: We don't really like Grace.
On point number 2 (because I'm assuming we all get number 1 - HUGE splits have taken place in the whole history of Christianity over this little word) - here's what I mean. Even the song I just alluded to - Amazing Grace - which I'm going to go ahead and keep on singing (probably alone in the car because singing is just not my talent) - says that Grace is for wretches ... you know - wretches like me.
In general - we have this idea that Grace is for degenerates. Grace is for those who need it ... for everyone else - tuck your shirt in, sit up straight - chin up! Stop looking like you need it! (okay - that's the end of my "elementary teacher voice"
But it's true. Grace isn't really presented to us as something you need more of if you're bad or just not as good. Pedestal People - you know - the ones that we love to love and put way up high on a pedestal - they don't need Grace - right?
Google's definition of Grace is pretty straight forward ... but when I mentioned that definition to some theological types - eye-ball rolls ensued.
The founder/original writer and lexicographer of the Webster's Dictionary - Noah Webster - was by accounts we can access today a devout Christian - and based all of his definitions of English words on how those words were used in the Bible. The last edition of the Webster's Dictionary published with this view strictly in mind came out in 1828 - and there are still today quite a few copies of it floating around on-line ... think I'm kidding? Google it. I came up with 386,000 results in 0.58 seconds. And it's still in print! Can Noah Webster help us clear up our confusion about Grace? ... Well ... Here's the entry (it's long - like really long - so feel free to skip down)
GRACE, noun [Latin gratia, which is formed on the Celtic; Eng. agree, congruous, and ready. The primary sense of gratus, is free, ready, quick, willing, prompt, from advancing.]
1. Favor; good will; kindness; disposition to oblige another; as a grant made as an act of grace
Or each, or all, may win a lady's grace
2. Appropriately, the free unmerited love and favor of God, the spring and source of all the benefits men receive from him.
And if by grace then it is no more of works. Romans 11:5.
3. Favorable influence of God; divine influence or the influence of the spirit, in renewing the heart and restraining from sin.
My grace is sufficient for thee. 2 Corinthians 12:9.
4. The application of Christ's righteousness to the sinner.
Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound. Romans 5:2.
5. A state of reconciliation to God. Romans 5:2:2.
6. Virtuous or religious affection or disposition, as a liberal disposition, faith, meekness, humility, patience, etc. proceeding from divine influence.
7. Spiritual instruction, improvement and edification. Ephesians 4:29.
8. Apostleship, or the qualifications of an apostle. Ephesians 3:8.
9. Eternal life; final salvation. 1 Peter 1:13.
10. Favor; mercy; pardon.
Bow and sue for grace
With suppliant knee.
11. Favor conferred.
I should therefore esteem it a great favor and grace
To few great Jupiter imparts this grace
13. That in manner, deportment or language which renders it appropriate and agreeable; suitableness; elegance with appropriate dignity. We say, a speaker delivers his address with grace; a man performs his part with grace
GRACE was in all her steps.
Her purple habit sits with such a grace
On her smooth shoulders.
14. Natural or acquired excellence; any endowment that recommends the possessor to others; as the graces of wit and learning.
15. Beauty; embellishment; in general, whatever adorns and recommends to favor; sometimes, a single beauty.
I pass their form and every charming grace
16. Beauty deified; among pagans, a goddess. The graces were three in number, Aglaia, Thalia, and Euphrosyne, the constant attendants of Venus.
The loves delighted, and the graces played.
17. Virtue physical; as the grace of plants. [Not used.]
18. The title of a duke or an archbishop, and formerly of the king of England, meaning your goodness or clemency. His grace the Duke of York. Your grace will please to accept my thanks.
19. A short prayer before or after meat; a blessing asked, or thanks rendered.
20. In music, graces signifies turns, trills and shakes introduced for embellishment.
Day in grace in theology, time of probation, when an offer is made to sinners.
Days in grace in commerce, the days immediately following the day when a bill or note becomes due, which days are allowed to the debtor or payor to make payment in. In Great Britain and the United States the days of grace are three, but in other countries more; the usages of merchants being different.
GRACE, verb transitive To adorn; to decorate; to embellish and dignify.
Great Jove and Phoebus graced his noble line.
And hail, ye fair, of every charm possess'd,
Who grace this rising empire of the west.
1. To dignify or raise by act of favor; to honor.
He might at his pleasure grace or disgrace whom
he would in court.
2. To favor; to honor.
3. To supply with heavenly grace.
The above definition makes a 3 page word-document of 564 words. Mr. Webster was thorough! And - yet - I feel even more foggy and uncertain about what Grace actually is.
Of all the books in the Bible - Romans wins the prize for talking about Grace the most. The Apostle Paul uses the word as a greeting (Romans 1:5 & 7) , as the gift by which we are justified (Rom 3:24), says that justification has to be by faith or it's not in accordance with Grace (Rom 4:16), Romans 5 says that Grace introduces us to faith and that it's by Grace that we stand - even if we're helpless, and says that with receiving an abundance of Grace the gift of righteousness can reign in us (of course - righteousness might be another word that's taken a beating). In Romans 6 Paul emphatically declares - you can almost hear his voice straining as you read this chapter - that using Grace as license will not increase it - but rather Grace is the very proof that we are no longer owned by that tyrant, Sin. In Romans 11 Paul flatly states that if grace is based on works it's not grace at all.
How is it that Grace ever became associated with the words "cheap" or "easy"? Encounters with Grace lead to humility, gratitude, transformation, generosity, hope, love ... in fact - despite the linguistic differences and the theological differences - can we see and or experience any practical differences between Grace and Love as we receive them from God? If you read through 1st Corinthians 13 and replace the word love in that chapter with the word Grace - doesn't it still work?
Could then - this also be the symbol of Grace?