I don't know how to write for Christian readers anymore...
This might be a little too vulnerable, but I'm going to risk it.
I’m a firstborn child with an overdeveloped sense of guilt, so when the concept of grace finally opened up to me a few years ago, I couldn’t get enough of it.
Some of you will remember the tone and texture of my writing during that that season. God’s love turned me into a poet, and wherever I looked, I saw his gentleness dripping off the edges of the earth. I wanted to draw you into it. I wanted to bathe you in it, and bind your wounds with it, and feed you with it.
Finding security that was bigger than my weakness was so sweet, so riveting for me because I am someone who generally feels too much responsibility. I wanted to shout, “You! You! You! We don’t have to be afraid all the time! God has us!”
And God does have us.
But as time passed, I began to see something new. Something foreign.
There was more going on in the Christian world than just talk about the hope of the gospel. There were people who were abusing the idea of grace.
I don’t mean that I saw people making mistakes and needing forgiveness for those mistakes. I get the shame of that stumbling walk. I understand the despair of failure on a very personal level, because I know what it feels like to be disappointed with myself and the limits of my willpower.
What I saw was different from this. I saw people who called themselves Christians flagrantly defying God’s commands, not convicted about sin, not apologizing for destruction they caused, doing whatever felt right and expecting God to be okay with that. Sometimes they even used God's name to try and support their abuse of others.
I saw them start to bend the Bible to approve of their choices. I saw them start to transform God into a sort of vague spiritual presence who just wants us to be happy, no matter what that happiness costs anyone.
If you’ve noticed a change in my writing the past year or two, that’s what has caused it. This mentality of indulgence without remorse seems to be an infection that is spreading in the body, and it has has broken my heart.
It doesn't break my heart because I'm afraid of sin. I'm not so pious as that. It breaks my heart because of what I see sin doing inside the people who are living like this.
I'm seeing how this sort of living leads to a downward spiral. Defiance leads to doubt, and flagrant sin leads to the death of softness in a soul.
At first I just repeated what I knew into these situations, "Grace, grace, grace, grace!" hoping something would kick in.
Maybe I wasn’t patient enough, maybe I didn't speak grace long enough or loud enough, but the hard hearted seemed to take that sweet gift of God and turn it into something dark. It didn’t wake them up. In some instances, in fact, it twisted and validated what was harmful.
I was confused.
I've heard it said that if you don't teach the gospel in a way that people sometimes take advantage of it, you aren't teaching the gospel at all.
Maybe that's the end of the discussion, right there.
But can grace mean anything of significance in a fallen world until sin means something significant, too?
In watching all of this, I began to see why the law mattered, not because God is hungry for condemnation, but because until we see the severity of what we have done wrong, or the depth of our need, until we look hell in its threatening eyes, can we truly see the value of what we have been given instead?
I don't know.
Our culture is changing, and I am seeing more and more evidence of hearts that are numb to evil. I’m not sure what to do about that yet.
When I was in my 20’s and 30’s, there was such a need for writers like Brennan Manning who spoke the gospel into the damning guilt so many of us picked up in evangelicalism. I still need Manning’s messages, and Yancey’s, and Buechner’s, and all of those brilliant thinkers who war against the accusations the enemy makes upon my heart.
But how do you speak to a generation that feels no shame? That has forgotten how to blush? That can approach a holy, burning God with hands casually thrown in the pockets, chewing gum, and expecting acceptance without any sort of admission of guilt?
I don’t know.
I know that I don't want to be the older brother standing with pride and judgment, pouting in the field.
I'll tell you the truth. It takes a lot to gross me out. I'm not freaked when I hear about people having sex outside of marriage, or breaking rules to get ahead in their jobs, or betraying their friends, or stealing. I'm not that delicate.
But when I do get freaked out is when I see sin working like a cancer inside people I love. Reprogramming them. Commandeering them.
I'll be honest about one more thing, too. I miss writing about grace.
In the inner chambers of my heart, the writer who was still awed with the tenderness of God is still alive. Almost every week I envy (is that the right word?) writers who feel freed up to speak only about God's tenderness and not about sin's gravity.
I would rather write beautiful, moving messages of comfort. I am a mother more than I am a soldier. Those of you who really know me know that about me.
But grace - the kind of grace that brings life in Christ - is the product of an exchange. How can I offer that exchange if the essential math of it is rejected?
The Christian life is not a universal condition like the sun shining and the rain falling on the just and the unjust. It works by inhalation and exhalation, by the beauty of penitence, by the beauty of dependence, by calling evil evil so that good can be given freely instead.
I'm thinking through all of this lately. I'm asking God to show me how to speak into a world that I believe is losing the greatest gift ever offered while chasing and defending lesser ones. Are you seeing this, too? Am I the only one? Tell me.
It's a storm inside me lately. I would love to have your prayers on the matter.