I’ve been wrestling lately with the idea of grace. More specifically, I’ve been wondering where justice fits inside of grace. Or does grace, perhaps, fit inside of justice?
My entire life, I have been taught the value of grace, and what it means, and where it comes from. The crux of Grace is the cross of Jesus, who bore the punishment of my sins in my stead. It shows up in my daily life as I remember my baptism, the waters that drowned my old sinful self and birth a new creation in Christ. As a lifetime Lutheran, I get grace — I really do.
What I’ve been struggling with lately is the idea that grace is not just for me.
Of course, I’m able to find grace for people in my life. When I’ve been wronged, I have looked beyond it — I have “forgiven those who have trespassed against me,” so to speak.
It’s not an easy task, not if its done fully and truly the way that God intended. Simple, but not easy.
Grace for the “other” isn’t a concept I’m unfamiliar with, or unpracticed in. It’s a practice in my closest relationships, nearly daily. I both give and receive grace in my marriage, friendships, and other relationships. It’s a beautiful thing, but this isn’t quite what I’ve been pondering lately.
What I want to know is how can I have grace for the people I good and truly hate.
When I say hate, it makes me uncomfortable. I was taught to never hate someone. “To hate someone is to wish they were dead” was the mantra drilled into me from a young age. “Strongly dislike” is the preferred semantic.
If I’m honest, though, there’s a rage inside of my gut that can only be described by a single word: hate. Again, as someone modeling my life after Jesus of Nazareth, it makes me uncomfortable to own up to the fact that I have literal hate in my heart.
It’s possible I can give myself some leeway, and state that I really truly hate the “sin” and not the “sinner,” right? But what happens with the “sin” is a large portion of a person’s identity and values? What happens when somebody literally stands for something that I hate? Do I then hate that person?
And in the midst of this gut feeling, — this gross, rage induced, frustrating emotion — I’m supposed to find Grace for the other.
Do the Nazi’s marching down the streets of America deserve grace? Is grace even mine to give them? What about the people of color that are directly attacked by white supremacists? Or directly affected by systematic racism and race bias?
What about the man who fancies himself a world leader and flippantly decides to deport children, or separate them from their parents and lock them in cages? Does he deserve my grace? Again, is it mine to give?
These people create a fire in my gut. It burns so hot I can hardly contain it.
I want to believe this fire burns on behalf of the marginalized. On behalf of people of color. Of LGBTQ people. Of all the oppressed people in this country, and elsewhere, who deserve to be treated as humans, not issues or problems or some other reduction.
I think that fire that started for these people. But I also know that self-righteousness has fanned a few flames. There is a large part that burns in anger toward myself for being part of the problem, and also believing that I’m somehow better.
And in the middle of this anger, this hatred, I am supposed to find grace?
I have been taught from childhood to “turn the other cheek,” to forgive everyone, to pray for my enemies.
But I was never taught how.
Words are easy. I can say “I forgive them” but it’s not true.
How can it be? When white supremacists run over innocent people and cause murder and mayhem, fighting for an ideal that other humans are worthless and should be eradicated and removed, how can I simply forgive that? Where can grace possibly fit in, in the midst of the injustice?
I’ve come to the realization that I can’t deal with these emotions because an important element of my belief system, my faith, my spirituality, is missing. The Psalmist had a tool for these emotions, but my American Christian upbringing has not allowed space for it.
In our need to provide hope to the world, to have an answer for pain and suffering, we have forgotten the Lament.
Answers are not always readily available. Solutions are not present. There is no way to button everything up and tie a bow, because life is more complex than that. There is a time for rejoicing in the hope that we have. There is a time for expression of love and joy and peace. And there is a time for anger, and for pain: for lamentation.
Only when we allow ourselves to join our brothers and sisters in their pain will we truly be effective vessels for love. Only when we allow the pain and anger we ourselves feel the space to sit for a while will we be able to begin the process of healing. We like to gloss over the problems of the marginalized by a simple claim of “Jesus loves you” and while that phrase is no less true, it is not always healing phrase in the midst of pain. It tried to jump to the end.
To lament is to cry out to God and ask why. To let that question hang unanswered for a time. To give space to experience hurt, to yours and your neighbors. To allow fully realized suffering. Jesus allowed space for this. He has promised to be there in the middle of it. That’s part of Grace.
Jesus didn’t just “fix” sin. He allowed himself to feel the devastating affects of it. He took upon himself the consequences of humanity separated from God. Physical and emotional pain. Hatred. Depression. Anxiety. He experienced it both before and during his crucifixion. And he lamented to God. “Please take this cup from me,” was his cry.
You cannot heal a large, gaping wound with a simple bandaid. It must be cleaned. It must be recognized for what it is. Only then can steps toward true healing take place.
Starting with lament centers us, and allows us to then move out from that. To recognize the source of love and peace is not necessarily from ourselves. By lamenting, we find the center of peace. We find the center of love. Only then can we carry that out with us when we interact with the world.
Perhaps then, it will be fathomable to pray for nazis, to pray for a president who is unhinged and vicious and violent. To pray for those who persecute. To hope for them that they might be free of the prison of their broken ideals. That they might have good things, and know good things, and be transformed by them. To approach them in grace, and mercy, and love, and peace.
Perhaps then healing can begin.
But if we gloss over the pain, overlook the suffering, and try to put a bandaid on wounds that need stitches, we cheat ourselves and our fellow humans. We pretend that things are healed while an infection continues to spread, eating away the flesh beneath the skin.
“Strive for Peace.”
“We need to try and be unified.”
These are unhelpful words. I agree that peace is a worthy goal. But with talk of “both sides” we usually just strengthen the strong and weaken the marginalized. The people who benefit from “equality” like this, from a goal of “keeping the peace”, are the people who are privileged to be in power and have the strongest platform. The Comfortable and the Unaffected.
True lament allows us walk into the hurt with our marginalized neighbors, to give them a voice without rushing to a “solution” or suppress their suffering with a thin veil of what peace looks like to us.
I am angry right now. I am not filled with grace. That is okay. I do not need to have answers. I do not need to get over anything, move on. I do not need to encourage others to do the same.
I am lamenting for our country. For the lives of the innocent taken every day. For the spread of hate and violence. I lament for the victims. I lament that I have encouraged and taken part in a system that continues to marginalize people based on religion, race, gender, and sexual orientation. That I have not stood up for those who are held down, that I have not fought when I could have, that I have been silent or outright suppressive when the voices of the hurting have called out. That I have not loved as well as I ought.
I ask those I’ve hurt for Grace, and forgiveness, for the things I’ve done to them or not done to help, protect, or support them. And I ask for Grace as I continue to grow and learn, because I’m bound to make more mistakes, even as I learn to have Grace for those who are far beyond my own values in the midst of my own lament; even as I struggle to learn what Grace looks like in the middle of injustice to myself and others.
And I hope that in fully realizing the pain and suffering of so many of my fellow humans, I can center myself on the source that is none of these things but rather a source of love, peace, joy, and life.