Mostly in the Bible, I see that God’s law is black and white. “Don’t be like this guy” or “The angel of death will slay you” or “Don’t do that or things will mushroom cloud real fast.” There are clear-cut lines, sharp boundaries, no wiggle room. The law is oak and iron and all closed fists.
But then everyone in the Bible keeps making these enormous ridiculous mistakes, not even brushing up against the law but leaping over it full speed, and there’s a candid sort of rawness with how each story tells the unabashed account of total failure. They purposefully screw up their lives in a near-parody of a reality show. I just wouldn’t include any of these guys if I was making up a religion. Your favorite Bible heroes make really good celebrity mugshots.
And this is where God comes in, every time, certainly with an arm of discipline and a face-melting intervention — but also with a gentle scooping hand of compassion and a heart of constant mercy. God never lets up on the law, but He often pays for it Himself by absorbing the cost of what we did. It’s this sort of grace that eventually re-shapes these men and women into thankful people, who almost can’t believe the second chance they’ve been given: and when the grace kicks in, they never stop getting overwhelmed by Him. They would follow Him anywhere, with zero limits, which is exactly how much grace God shows us.
It would’ve hurt if God had just slapped us around with His divine law. But it hurts even more that God steps in with kindness. It’s the type of hurt that tenderizes a heart and revokes our selfishness: because we know God ultimately paid the law with the life of His Son. Where we stood guilty and embarrassed and downright wrong, Jesus loved us up to a cross. There he took upon the consequences of the very law which was meant for our good. To receive grace, it only costs our pride; for God to give grace, the cost was His Son.
His grace is the kind of love that hurts, and so then, it is real love.
It’s hard to see Jesus there and then go back to who I was. He died to set us wretched ones free. He rose for my new life, that I would see the law as the vision of who I’m to become: not as a measure for how I’ve failed, but as a future memory of the man I’m meant to be. Only grace will get me there. Only grace can bring me to follow the law with joy, with gratitude, with peace. Only grace can tell me I am fully flawed and wholly beloved.