the radical absurdity of grace

One of my favorite bloggers is this woman in Canada named Stephanie who writes humor books about knitting (yes, there is such a genre) under the name “Yarn Harlot.” She’s irreligious, liberal, and a feminist, but I think she’s hilarious, and I’ve learned a lot about knitting from her. Anyway, she’s been getting cyber-harassed by someone in her comments and via e-mail, which is terrible to begin with, but said person has also claimed to be a Christian (which I seriously doubt, but oh well), which also sucks.

Anyway, there’s been a serious outpouring of love and support for Stephanie in her comments, which is great. But what bothers me about them is that some people have been saying that she, someone who doesn’t even like organized religion, is behaving more Christianly than her crazy stalker cyber-bully. Now, in some sense this is true: Christians are expected to behave in a manner befitting the calling to which we’ve been called, with humility and gentleness and patience, not attacking people irrationally (and see Ephesians 4). On the other hand, though, my great concern is that people view “being Christian” as “acting like a nice person”, which isn’t the whole case. A Christian, of course, isn’t just a nice person–there are plenty of virtuous Muslims and Buddhists and atheists, of course, and that’s great–but the truth of the matter is that Christ is the impetus for all of our kindness and graciousness, and in fact sometimes for what looks to the world like intolerance and harshness. A Christian isn’t a nice person; he or she is someone who is radically saved by grace, and is being made new.

C.S. Lewis says it a lot better than I can:

Suppose we have come down to brass tacks and are now talking not about an imaginary Christian and an imaginary non-Christian, but about two real people in our own neighbourhood….Christian Miss Bates may have an unkinder tongue than unbelieving Dick Firkin. That, by itself, does not tell us whether Christianity works. The question is what Miss Bates’s tongue would be like if she were not a Christian and what Dick’s would be like if he became one. Miss Bates and Dick, as a result of natural causes and early upbringing, have certain temperaments: Christianity professes to put both temperaments under new management if they will allow it to do so. What you have a right to ask is whether that management, if allowed to take over, improves the concern. Everyone knows that what is being managed in Dick Firkin’s case is much “nicer” than what is being managed in Miss Bates’s. That is not the point….

There is a paradox here. As long as Dick does not turn to God, he thinks his niceness is his own, and just as long as he thinks that, it is not his own. It is when Dick realises that his niceness is not his own but a gift from God, and when he offers it back to God–it is just then that it begins to be really his own. For now Dick is beginning to take a share in his own creation. The only things we can keep are the things we freely give to God. What we try to keep for ourselves is just what we are sure to lose.

We must, therefore, not be surprised if we find among the Christians some people who are still nasty. There is even, when you come to think it over, a reason why nasty people might be expected to turn to Christ in greater numbers than nice ones. That was what people objected to about Christ during his life on earth: He seemed to attract “such awful people.” That is what people still object to, and always will (Mere Christianity, pp. 179, 181-82).

It’s no wonder that Jesus calls us to repent of our righteousness and our niceness, because only when we peel that off and understand how deep our depravity runs is when we know how deep and how radical grace is.


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