Counter-Cultural Grace

On January 24, 2020, the youngest member of professional football’s royal family retired. Eli Manning, with as many Super Bowl rings as Peyton, never quite got out of his big brother’s shadow. Though he didn’t fill up the stat sheet like Peyton or set as many records, he had a knack for taking down Tom Brady when all the chips were down. Immediately after his retirement, the pundits took to debating whether Eli will make it to the Hall of Fame. Some argue that by virtue of the Super Bowl rings he’s a shoo-in. Others say the rings aren’t enough. He was good, they say, but the Hall is about great. I guess we’ll have to wait five years (maybe more) to find out who was right. Sports junkies love these debates, but they’re not the only ones. Hebrews 11 is known as the “Hall of Faith,” a Mount Rushmore of Old Testament heroes. Definitely some of them are giants: Abraham and Moses, to be sure. Yet some whom we would expect to find there are mysteriously absent, while others who do show up would never have gotten my vote.

If I’m honest, Hebrews 11 confuses me a little bit. Why doesn’t Joshua make the cut? Why is the only thing mentioned about Joseph his instructions about his bones? Didn’t the author read the part of Genesis where he was sold into slavery, falsely accused of rape, thrown in jail, forgotten about for years—and still remained faithful to God? And why is Gideon there at all? If you ask me, he’s much more an example of faithlessness than faithfulness. And don’t get me started on Samson… Yet there they are, immortalized in Scripture for their faith. I’m not here to impugn the inspiration of the Holy Spirt or the author of Hebrews (though I plan to wait in line in heaven to ask him a few questions!). I don’t know why Samson makes the list and Daniel doesn’t or why Jacob’s there and Joshua is absent. But here’s something I do know: Hebrews 11 shows that God thinks and hopes the best even for scoundrels like Samson. And this gives me hope.

Although I’d like to censure Samson for his philandering ways, I know that I’m as prone to wander as he. I’d love to berate Gideon for his cowardice, but to be honest, my yellow streak is probably wider. These guys’ being remembered for their faith and not their failures reveals the heart of God. Even little-tiny-baby faith is enough to “gain approval” (v. 39). Even way-too-late, better-in-death-than-life faith (Judges 16:30) is enough to please God (v. 6). God notices weak, barely-there faith. He did for theses judges, and He does for me. Hallelujah! But what do I do with such good news?

When Paul describes love in 1 Corinthians 13, he says that love believes all things and hopes all things (v. 7). I believe that Paul means that love doesn’t assume the worst; it assumes the best. It doesn’t remember the worst thing a person did, but chooses to remember the best. I realize that this must be tempered with other passages. We’re told to be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves (Matt. 10:16); Jesus certainly doesn’t call us to be naïve simpletons. However, what I see in my own life isn’t shrewdness. It’s cynicism, skepticism, and bald-faced arrogance.

I rejoice that God would remember my mustard-seed faith and not my failures. However, when it comes to how I remember others, I’m quick to recall their worst moments. I don’t give grace; I roll my eyes. I don’t show mercy; I shake my head. But I wonder, how would my church change if I remembered people more like Holy Spirit in Hebrews 11? How would your church change? What if my memory was set to focus on the moments of triumph rather than failure?[1] What if I fixated on the grace of God and spiritual growth that I can see in a person, rather than on all the times they stumbled? I think our churches would be safer places to admit mistakes. People would be more willing to reach out for help. Maybe they wouldn’t feel like everybody else has it together while they’re still a batch of hot mess.

How would social media culture change if what we reported was thinking the best and giving grace rather than assuming the worst and finding fault? It’s so easy to read a hot take and respond in kind. After all, online you never even have to face the person. Yet, while your words might not remain into eternity like the words of Hebrews 11, the internet will remember them for quite a long time. I’m talking about interacting with people within the household of faith, but also people outside of it. We live in a polarized, mud-slinging, hot-take culture. To be on one side of an issue is not just to disagree with people on the other side, but, in many cases, to be their enemies. However, Jesus calls me to love my enemies. And that means people on the other side of the aisle with views diametrically opposed to my own. Love is not a call to agreement or rejoicing in iniquity—not at all–but it is a call to kindness, patience, humility, and hoping the best for others—even when they say evil things against me.

 I know that sounds radical. In fact, I can’t believe I just wrote it. But what better way to be counter-cultural in this age of hatred than to love others with the same love with which God has loved us? A love that focuses not on a person’s mistakes, failures, gaffes, and faux pas, but on the one time they got it right, by the grace of God. Again, I’m not advocating calling wrong right or right wrong. Sin is sin, and we should never say differently. We must boldly proclaim the truth. My concern is that we forget the love part of speaking truth in love (Eph. 4:15). Because I’m a natural cynic, critic, and skeptic, I need this challenge. Maybe you do too.

[1] This isn’t to say that we gloss over or condone sin. Again, balance!

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