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One of the most famous references to the idea of grace comes from the familiar hymn, Amazing Grace. The hymn began its life in 1772 as part of the sermon notes of John Newton, a former English slave trader turned preacher. The last verse, “When we’ve been there ten thousand years …” was added decades later by, many believe, John Rees. These lyrics were eventually set to a borrowed tune called, New Britian.
The first line, Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me, makes total sense when you consider Newton’s slave-trading history and subsequent conversion to Christianity. He undoubtedly felt that he had been spared a very long and miserable afterlife. He would have appreciated the more modern cliché, There but for the grace of God go I, which means that something bad that happened to others could just as easily have happened to him, were it not for God’s grace.
Clearly, the idea of grace is linked to a religiously inspired worm of the dust mentality. Webster defines grace as “unmerited divine assistance,” which points to the concept of God as the moody old man who regrets having created this problem known as the human race. The grace of God, like this limited view of God, are both products of humankind’s low spiritual self esteem.
There is no such thing as unmerited divine assistance. Jesus pointed out that the sun shines on the just and the unjust, that the prodigal son created his own suffering and that a man born blind was not so stricken because of either his or his parent’s sins.
God is love and love operates by law, unchanging and predictable in its nurturing behavior. Does an airplane fly by grace, or because it fulfills known and predictable laws of gravity? Frankly, I would not board a plane whose flight depended on grace. I will board one that flies by law.
The concept of grace can be a major stumbling block in our forward movement of developing spiritual consciousness. It is good to understand how we see our relationship to God. Do we think of ourselves, as Emerson said, as the “permitted” wretch, or have we embraced ourselves as expressions of the Infinite, worthy of all the support and assistance this freeing truth implies?