25 February 2010

to err and to grace

Over the past couple of days I have been working through a concept which, I must confess, has come to disturb me a bit. Most people find out rather quickly that I'm already disturbed, but this is the kind that sticks with you even when you're not ok with it.

What of the phrase, ". . . let us err on the side of grace . . ." ? This is commonplace among decisions among Christians, most notably within churches and parachurch organizations. It sounds good, since we are people who have experienced grace and have had the opportunity to 'embrace grace' (HT: McK). And, I suppose that 'to err is human . . .' so there is real and powerful logic behind the sentiment.

Except for the nagging bit that we are also supposed to be people of the truth, which clearly dictates that some things are right and some things are wrong. The balance which must be struck between truth and grace does not allow us to simply err on the side of grace as though its primary purpose is to cover our lack of diligence. Is this concept not similar to the notion that it is easier to ask for forgiveness than it is to ask permission? This phrase, no matter how much it may capture real-life drama, leads people to focus solely on forgiveness and not on right character. Yes, it is 'easier' to find forgiveness before God . . . but it is 'right' to seek his permission and guidance.

The same is true for erring on grace's side of the table. Does our God not prefer that we not err at all? Is it perhaps simply easier to get it wrong under the smothering of our own perception of grace than to seek and ponder and pray and wait upon him for the right direction?

In the end, I must confess that I do agree that any errors in our human judgment - those times when our own hearts and minds cloud out the presence of the divine Spirit - should fall on the side of grace before they fall on the side of judgment. But it is far, far greater that we should be people of the Book, people of the Spirit, people of the Christ and know what we believe, why we believe it and how it is called to work out into the world.

The primary barrier to this will always be individuals who are unwilling to commit to the high demands of discipleship. Until then, erring will certainly multiply.

1 comment:

AnneDroid said...

Thought provoking stuff. I've always liked the "err on the side of grace" idea, particularly because I've come across many who've erred on the opposite side, so to speak. I am aware of how strongly and how often Jesus speaks against judgementalism and unforgiveness so that's been on my mind too. And I work in prison which is a different setting from Churchworld. But notwithstanding all that, you're quite right that erring on the side of grace can go from the benefit of the doubt to real and serious ERRING which is in the end unhelpful to those we seek to love and serve.

Perhaps it's down to your starting point. Plenty of Christians need to move in the direction of "erring on the side of grace" as they've been nowhere near that. But others need to move back from a precipice they're in danger of toppling over.