Thursday, November 4, 2010

When Justice Satisfies and Grace Does Not

Time for another confession.

A few of you have wondered where I have been the last few days.

I'll admit, last week was a rough one, but this week, my excuse is not so good.

It was a guilty pleasure.

Usually late at night, when I would normally have been writing, I was distracted.

With a man.

Not THE man, but a man.

Called Mitch Rapp.

He's not real.

He's fictional. And he is one bad dude. I'm pretty sure the stories weaved by Vince Flynn** are biographical novels based on true events surrounding my Special Forces/Reconnaissance brother-in-law. Or maybe they're just fiction.

Any which way you look at it, whether the stories are true or not, Mitch Rapp is one formidable character -a brave, tactless, snide, strong, uncouth protagonist with a perfect shot, never-ending energy, and an ongoing list of enemies. He hates bureaucracies and injustice. By the end of one of his novels, you are just waiting for the evil, wicked enemy to finally meet the swift, just hand of Mitch Rapp.

All the cards fall into perfect place and justice triumphs. The reader - at least this one - closes the book with a satisfied 'thunk.' All is right with the world, good versus evil and the good wins out. No gray areas, just black and white and a matter-of-fact Mitch Rapp on his flight home.

Sometimes, justice just begs to win.

It's why I love the story of Joseph in the Old Testament. His bully brothers have it coming and after years of abuse, he finally sticks them with it. Well, kinda. I know he's kind and forgiving, but their guilt seems so satisfying, so necessary to me.

Or the story of David and Goliath. There is, of course, grace for David, but big meanie Goliath gets exactly what he deserves.

In my own life, grace is always welcomed. But when it comes to observing it in others, there are times when I would rather watch deserved justice unfold rather than undeserved mercy. If I am being perfectly honest, sometimes justice seems to be a much better fit than grace. When children are hurt, when innocent lives are ruined, it is hard to watch grace and forgiveness take place in the perpetrator's life. Wouldn't it be helpful if God sent a few more dependable and thorough Mitch Rapps on patrol, scooping out justice where I deem it needed?

Just the other day, I listened to a family speak in carefully chosen words about generations unreconciled - a mother dying of cancer and a son who has years and years of wounds from her... As much as I would like to see grace in the hands of this son who could choose to care for an undeserving mother, I am sure the temptation of justice entices him - to let her die alone with regrets and perhaps just a sliver of the pain he has felt over the years.

The only way I make sense of it all is to remember two things: who God is and what He has done in my own life. As Philip Yancey so aptly says it, "grace teaches us that God loves because of who God is, not because of who we are." (What's So Amazing About Grace, page 254). If He finds grace a better fit for someone, than it must be the perfect fit.

When I am seeing life through eyes that are His, I see that grace is most satisfying of all, that rights and what's fair and what should be fall away in the light of who He is. As I watch my own life enveloped in "grace upon grace" (John 1:16) - never dependent on what I do or don't do, how can I not want it for others? Anyways, "by denying forgiveness to others, we are in effect determining them unworthy of God's forgiveness, and thus so are we." (Yancey)

The audacity of God's grace is that it is offered to the victim and the bully - after all, haven't most of us been in both categories? Grace is lavished on any who will take the free gift, any who admit they need it - the abandoned children and their drug-seeking mother, the parents who adopt and the parents who give up their child. Not just the person who is in a Psalms-like storm can receive His grace; the person who is in the midst of a storm of their own choosing is also offered grace, much to the shock (and maybe dismay!) of God-followers who observe. Can anyone move beyond God's grace? Only by their own choosing, not by His denial of them.

I'm resting tonight in this unfathomable gift of grace. Its bounds are far beyond my imagination, and the Giver is perfect in His presentation of the gift.

Resting Here,

**Vince Flynn weaves a great story, but it is not for the faint of heart. For that reason, I have great hesitations in recommending any of his books here. If you were looking for a book rating, I would rate many of them R. But Mitch Rapp is tough. Just sayin'.

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