Hypothetical Grace

by Drew Humphrey

Have you ever participated in one of those group ice-breaker activities where you’re asked questions about far-fetched scenarios? Something like, “If you could have any superpower, what would it be?” Or, “If you were stranded on a deserted island and could only have one item with you, what would you choose?” Those questions can be fun, in large part because they’re unrealistic. Let’s face it, you’re not getting a superpower anytime soon. And you probably won’t be stranded on a deserted island this week, either. So you can answer these questions with a sense of detached lightheartedness, knowing that what you say really doesn’t matter.

I’m afraid that I often treat grace in the same way.

On certain occasions I think about my children and the various directions that their lives could go, and it often leads me to wonder about how I would respond to different scenarios that as a parent I could conceivably face. For example, “How would I handle it if I got a call from the police station telling me that my teenage child had been arrested for underage drinking and drug use?”

After thinking about that for about ten seconds, I think I can come up with a pretty good answer. I figure that I would calmly go down to the station, pick up my child, deliver a great big fatherly hug, offer extravagant reassurances of my undying love, and promise to support and walk with my child through all the challenges ahead. After all, that’s what a grace-filled parent would do, right?

But here’s the thing: I don’t have any kids being held down at the police station right now. I have kids who are at home spilling their milk and standing on the couch when they’re not supposed to and yelling at each other when they don’t feel like sharing. And let’s just say that my responses in those situations are often far less grace-filled than my imaginary response when the police call.

All this leads me to admit that I’m much better at hypothetical grace than I am real grace. Put me in a (non-existent) situation where I have to (imaginarily) show love and forgiveness, and I’ll (theoretically) knock your socks off with my (make-believe) godliness. But how am I doing in the real-life, mundane, messy situations right in front of me? That’s a totally different story.

Perhaps you’re like me. Perhaps you’re way better at the idea of grace than you are the practice of it. If so, let me remind you of one simple point: The grace you’ve received from God is anything but hypothetical. So the grace you’ve been called to extend should be anything but hypothetical, as well.

For those of us who rest in Jesus, we don’t place our hope in the fact that God would be slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love—in some theoretical or potential scenario down the road. We rest in the fact that he is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love—in the here and sin-filled now.

The reality is that you and I have buried ourselves beneath mountainous piles of rebellious words, thoughts, and actions. As such, we’ve not given God the luxury of keeping things hypothetical. Either he must destroy us with his wrath, or else he can choose to forgive us in his grace. But the one thing he can’t do is wonder “if.”

In the same way, we’ve been thrown into a world of people who mess up daily. People who gossip and slander and break promises. And it’s to these people that grace must be shown. Right now. In the midst of offenses that still hurt and sins that still linger. As Paul says in Colossians 3, “as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.” There’s nothing hypothetical about it.