I had one of those experiences this Easter you get when you buy a new car and then start seeing that same model on the road everywhere, whereas before you never noticed. My daughter was beautifully singing Amazing Grace, while our string orchestra accompanied, and in a flash I started to see the power and meaning of the lyrics like never before. I must have sung or heard Amazing Grace hundreds of times over the course of my life. I’ve enjoyed the lyrics, but they didn’t impact me as profound. That all changed this Easter.
I think I know why this “Amazing Grace” epiphany happened on Sunday. Firstly, my concept of grace has been transformed by understanding the gospel, and indeed life in general, in relational terms. It’s all about relationships and communion. The gospel has too long been seen through a legal paradigm. Justice, righteousness, and salvation have been explained to Christians primarily using legal terms and concepts. The focus has been having a clean moral slate and seeing God mostly as a King who must maintain legal justice. Sin is talked about as missing a mark, a violation of an abstract standard. The Bible’s emphasis is very different. God is portrayed primarily as a Father and righteousness is about wholeness in relationships. Sin is not mainly a violation of a standard, but a violation of relationship. In light of this, grace is more than just “unmerited favor”, although that’s true. Grace describes a disposition of openness, vulnerability, and love. It’s the fuel of intimacy.
It’s unfortunate that grace has had to contend with legal barnacles. Instead of transmitting the warmth of mutual fellowship, its legal baggage has made it seem like grace is all about being pardoned for a crime you’ve committed. While that is a wonderful reality, it’s not likely to produce a lover. The miracle of grace is that God is tenaciously pursuing a warm, intimate, and shared life with us. He isn’t being legal, He is being personal. And this is where the lyrics of Amazing Grace have blown me away.
The verse that caught my attention says, “T’was Grace that taught my heart to fear. And Grace, my fears relieved.” In other words, God’s pursuit of communion, His openness, vulnerability, and love towards me has changed me to become a person who can love back and live a life of wholeness (reverence). “Grace taught my heart to fear” – to be reverent, to regard God and others as precious. I’ve fallen in love with God and man. And part of this is having my disordered, self-focussed fear of loss to be done away with. Knowing this kind of God draws my attention away from my own survival and allows me to live generously – “and grace my fears relieved”.
I can’t believe I missed the meaning of that verse all these years, but I’ll take an epiphany of God’s love even if it means singing a song hundreds of times. I have to also thank our liturgy, reading the Bible as a narrative, and our corporate study of the arts for helping me understand this song. But I’ll have to leave that subject for another post.