Grace & Power

When I look at the sacrificial grace of Jesus’ approach to the imperfect and contrast it with many of the heroes of organized religion once in power, I’m appalled. 

And I wonder: Is it that defensiveness, that same need to crucify the wrong, that infects the Christian community now as it faces a post-Christian world? 

Let me back up a little. 

The birds are singing. It’s 60-something degrees outside. Gorgeous. It’s a happy day for walking dogs past people mowing lawns while the wind rattles the leaves on trees. 

Great for thinking through what I’ve read. There is a contrast between the broken grace in my devotional and the men commemorated by the Wall of the Reformers I find in A Pilgrimage to Eternity

In Voskamp’s devotional, John 8, a woman is caught in adultery (somehow they didn’t catch the man?). The community, focused heavily on right and wrong, brings her out to take her punishment: stoning.  

Like the Taliban in modern times, they would rock to death this woman they know, as if destroying her with their own hands is less ugly than her transgression. Literally defacing this person made in the image of God. 

Jesus was different: He didn’t condemn her. He loved her. And after the love, after the acceptance, comes change. Only after that, he tells her to go and sin no more.  

The love is hers, regardless.  

Faith yoked to power (instead of grace)

Fast forward to the emperor Constantine. Faith is yoked to power. It could be argued that the abuses of the Catholic church later on were made possible because of the church’s worldly power — its focus on that power more potent even than its focus on faith.

A marriage of church and state resulted in a corrupted religion. Fallacies like indulgences crept in. 

The church was led by men from powerful families as yet another means to increase their power. Not by men of strong faith and character. But power corrupts.

The Reformers were right to rebel — right to point out where they saw the church as straying. In this sense, they were right to question and call the church to account. 

But they had some of the very same faults. Fatal ones. The need to condemn, often brutally, those who questioned. Those who were “other.” 

Although great in many ways, it showed up in Luther’s merciless treatment of the peasantry. 

It showed up in Calvin’s sometimes micromanaging authoritarianism in Geneva and, as some claim, the brutal execution of physician Michael Servetus.** 

Where was the grace that brings change? Where was their own willingness for self-reflection and change? Could they not see and follow the example of the very Christ they claimed to serve?

Am I sometimes guilty of the same thing? Refusing to love, refusing to accept those lost in their faults, thus compounding my own? 

I know I’ve done it before. I also know I’m wrong when I do. That even if it’s the way of the world, it’s not the way of Christ.

Can I learn to offer grace first, without conditions?

These questions greet me in the rhythm of the walk. In the grace of the day. In the “much” I’ve been given.


** Possible, but debatable. Although it took Servetus 30 minutes to burn to death in a fire made with green branches, Calvin had requested a slightly more humane execution by sword. Some analysts consider this incident indicative of local magistrates' wish to express dominance over Calvin ... in any case, illustrative of the dangers of marrying religion to worldly power.

Inspiration for the journey...

The image of God we hold is personal & important ... and something each culture transforms into its own. But how does God see us (and does it matter)?

Patriotic Pilgrimage: Pointe du Hoc is where a band of U.S. Army Rangers held the point against impossible odds during WWII ... one of many places testifying to the long friendship between the United States & France.