As I was preparing to write this I was fascinated to read Michael Jensen’s blog “How Does Grace Change Me?” This story is about a man who was radically changed by grace and worked out that change in a way counter to modern culture and also in a way I think most Christians would find very difficult.
When Harry heard that his son had been murdered the shock was so intense he still can’t describe the cacophony of emotions that thundered through his body, his mind and his spirit all at the same time. When he heard the details of what happened, a vivid picture came into his mind.
Harry’s son, David, had been stabbed to death in an apparent random but deliberate attack by one thrust with a large bladed knife that went straight through his heart. The picture that came into Harry’s mind was of that blade, piercing his son’s heart and continuing on, right through into his own. As he physically felt pain in his own heart at the loss of his son, in his mind’s eye he saw, still attached to the handle of that knife, the hand of the murderer. Then he pictured the person himself. At this point Harry was overwhelmed not by hatred or revenge but by grace.
“I didn’t expect that,” he said. “But as I saw us all connected by that knife, I was so overcome with God’s grace. I knew David was with Jesus. I knew that I had been saved and we would be reunited. And I saw this man’s face and saw a man made in the image of God, now connected to us, to David and to me. I felt that I just had to reach out to him in grace.”
Our adversarial justice system didn’t allow Harry to reach out in the way he had wanted to. However, once all the legal proceedings had completed and the murderer was serving a significant sentence, he agreed to participate in a process of restorative justice. Harry has now been able to speak to this man of God’s grace. The grace that has touched Harry and now the murderer does not say to him that what he has done is OK. The crime of taking another human life stands as a momentous evil act. Yet Harry has reached out in grace seeking reconciliation and a new way of living together in the aftermath of the murder.
Harry has said that he can’t understand why one human being would take the life of a fellow human being. But he can imagine many factors in the murderer’s life that may have led him down the path of murder and imprisonment. Harry wanted to say to this man that there is something greater and more important than hatred and revenge. He wanted this man to know the grace of God. Harry realised that to say to the murderer things like, “I hope they lock you up and throw away the key. You don’t deserve to breathe the same air that I breathe,” would be things that simply harden the man and give him no hope. They would be counterproductive. Instead, Harry reached out in love, as God had reached out to him.
The man who had taken Harry’s son’s life could see in Harry the pain he had caused and knew that Harry was not saying to him that it was all OK. But he could see that despite the pain and the evil of murder, somehow Harry believed him to be a valuable human being. Not understanding how it could be, he nevertheless understood that Harry was reaching out to him in grace and wanted to see better things for him. Words of hatred and revenge are dehumanising. Words of grace give life.
For all the evils that go on in this world there is an answer. Christians who are overwhelmed by this grace of God ourselves have a radical message to shout loudly to a hurting and lost world. In this grace there is life.