When can we really accept God’s grace?

By Curtis K. Shelburne: Religion columnist

I keep wondering: What does it take for human beings to truly know God’s grace as something much more than theoretical?

I know. Most Christians talk a lot about God’s grace. We dissect it in Bible studies. We say we believe in it. We claim to know it as our only hope. We may even admit intellectually that we need it just as badly as anyone else.

I wonder if we really believe that? What has to occur before we really do? Or really can?

What does it take for us to quit talking as if our problem was only with sins and not with Sin? If sins are my biggest problem, then I can catalog them, come up with an improvement plan, and get to work — at least until I realize how large is their number and how strong is their grip.

But, alas, my problem is not “sins” as much as it is Sin, not the symptoms but the taproot. My problem is the sinful nature that is mankind’s curse and which no one, apart from the blood of Christ, can ever defeat, no matter how strict his resolve, how seriously devoted he is to law (even God’s), how much penance she undertakes.

What has to happen before we realize that the most “respectable” of us has in attitude if not action transgressed in ways that twist our souls every bit as badly as any overt crime committed by any criminal ever locked away in any prison?

What does it take for us to really put our weight down on God’s grace? I really wonder.

It’s one thing to talk about grace in theory. But I suspect that grace remains largely theoretical until . . .

Until we’ve been almost crushed by pain or tragedy.

Until we’ve failed at a marriage or a business.

Until our tears have watered in the soil of a grave where we have buried our own hearts along with one dearer than life.

Until we’ve lived through the death of a dream we loved almost as dearly as a child.

Until we’ve wept bitterly at the self-inflicted ruin we see rampaging through the life of a son or daughter.

Until we’re dazed by the depth of our own depravity and weakness and been deeply ashamed and out of excuses.

Until the grace of God has been our only hope and we have had more than a few moments when we wondered if even God’s grace is strong enough to pull us out of the pit — and his love deep enough for him to want to.

Until we’ve been so crushed that we quit reaching down for our own bootstraps and instead in tears reach up to our Father.

Until then, grace — the grace of God we receive and the grace we extend to others — is largely a theoretical concept.

I wonder if it can be any other way? I wonder if it is even possible for people who haven’t yet been broken to truly trust in God’s grace?

Oysters can’t produce pearls until they deal with the pain of grains of sand intruding into their shells. And people? Is it possible for us to truly accept God’s grace and pass it on until we’ve been broken and cried out in pain? I wonder.