Friday, May 12, 2006

Grace Abounded All the More

There is a mystery contained in these lines:

“Your regrets, if-onlys,
sins and shame,
now in the Blood,
constrained now—somehow—
to serve the Mercy…” [anonymous]

St Paul put the same mystery this way: “Where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 5:20-21). Actually, there are several mysteries here: divine grace, love, mercy, and repentance.

What does it mean that sin and shame must “serve the Mercy”? Perhaps we could look at another passage from Romans for enlightenment: “All things work for good for those who love God…” (8:28). Read it again. Does it say some things, or most things? No, it says all things. This is one of the strokes of divine genius, which comes, like everything He designs and does, from love. We look at our lives and see much that is wasted, much that went wrong, that we regret, that we’d like to do over—even, perhaps, a considerable amount of real evil. We can’t go back in time to change things; it is history. But we can go ahead into eternity, and see things with a heavenly vision.

There we see that all the evil and failures and pains (whether received or inflicted) have been marvelously transformed, are no longer destructive but rather constructive, for now they magnify the mercy of the Lord. That is because they testify that even this is not stronger than the Lord’s mercy, even my wickedness has not extinguished the flame in his heart, and his glory is all the greater for having forgiven even me.

“What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means!” (6:1-2). Read once again the above passage from Romans 8. This abounding grace is for those who love God. This is crucial, because without repentance of our sins, they cannot serve the Mercy, but only the Justice. Without repentance (which is one expression of our love for God), that Justice will be served in Hell! This is why the Gospel message of repentance (one of the most prominent, repeated, and essential ones) must be proclaimed far and wide.

Some people confuse mercy with a kind of wrongheaded or winking tolerance, in effect a condoning of sin. The beauty and glory of divine mercy is not that it overlooks or minimizes sin, but that it recognizes its horror and vileness, confronts it squarely, and dissolves it through forgiveness. Tolerating sin or refusing to truthfully name it does no such thing. That only allows it to fester and spread. If you think God is telling you that you are just fine as you are, then it is not God but the devil to whom you are listening. He will tell you that you do not need to repent: God is a Big Softie, a benign Old Grampa, so everything is all right. But it’s not all right, and you do need to repent. It is only through repentance, based on love of God, that your sins will ultimately “serve the Mercy” and glorify Him forever. But what a gift this is! God truly “makes all things new.” He even turns our sins into opportunities to glorify Him!

God will speak only the truth to us: the pure truth, the beautiful truth, the hard truth, the painful truth—in short, the whole truth. Part of the painful truth is that we have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. But here is the beautiful truth: “Where sin increased, grace abounded all the more.” Gather up all your sins and regrets and secret shame, and bring them all to the Lord. He will make them serve the Mercy, and Grace will abound.

If only you knew the Gift of God, Jesus told the Samaritan woman. If only we knew how He can turn evil into good—if we first acknowledge it as evil and then let go of it! God will work all things for the good—if you love Him. God will be glorified, even though you’ve sinned—if you repent. He’s ready to work a miracle for you. Don’t keep Him waiting!