Tag Archives: Martin Luther

I still don’t understand grace, but do I have to?


I don’t sleep in much these days.

My son was supposed to go to a track meet at 8:45 a.m. on Saturday, so I rolled over in bed around 7:45 a.m. and grabbed my iPhone to see what I had missed out on in the last 8 hours.

On Facebook, I came across something I hadn’t seen in a while, a Brennan Manning quote: “How glorious the splendor of a human heart that trusts that it is loved!”

But it was followed by something that shocked me.


The old ragamuffin had finally given up the ghost, it seemed.

I read on, and sure enough it was confirmed by others. Brennan Manning, the writer who taught me more about grace in two books and one speech than 18 years of Sunday school did, was gone.

I’ve always liked the bad guys, the two-time losers. I’m an unabashed fan of Charles Bukowski, William S. Burroughs, Jack Kerouac and of course, Ernest Hemingway.

They were substance abusers, womanizers, absentee fathers, hypocrites and prophetic poet kings.

Manning didn’t achieve the literary class of those gentlemen, but he didn’t have to. He understood grace where they desperately searched for it in words and deeds.

I don’t know how Manning died. Some men die well, others die poorly. But it’s just another of the steps on the journey. Hemingway, Bukowski and some of the others did not die well.

But Manning paved the way for the Hunter S. Thompsons of the world, those tortured souls who didn’t understand or know of grace during their walk on this mortal coil.

Surely Manning’s understanding of grace applied to those guys as well.

I thought about Manning all day, and Saturday evenings are dinner and a movie night at our house, so it was either intentional or not that we watched “Les Miserables.”

And the kids asked all kinds of questions, and I wanted to answer every one of them with grace. It’s because of grace kids, grace. What don’t you understand about that?

But I don’t understand grace. Even after Manning and Luther and all the others who’ve taught me on the topic of grace over the years. I still don’t get it. I see it, I think I get the concept, but I just flat-out don’t understand it.

If Manning was right, I don’t have to.

Even if I don’t understand grace, but I can love my neighbor regardless of our differences, do I really need to understand it? Grace is executed, not learned.

My kids protested watching “Les Miserables,” and I don’t blame them. It’s a musical, which should naturally send them fleeing with excuses. But Carson is a history buff, and Gabbers is a performer.

They were enraptured by the film, asking us all sorts of questions, like: Why was Jean Valjean in prison for such a puny crime?

And all through the film, I kept seeing Manning’s message. But it was so mechanical to me. Jean Valjean was heroic grace, rescued and then imbued with grace and then a dispenser of grace.

His grace was so mechanical that Javert killed himself, because like staring at the sun, he couldn’t look grace in the face.

But it’s beautiful nonetheless. Because we don’t have that many artistic portraits of grace.

Is it because we don’t understand it? Our human interpretations can be flat or even heretical. Take Martin Luther for instance. Take “Les Miserables” for instance.

Even Manning could only present a one-sided image of grace. That of a disgraced alcoholic priest who was ultimately forgiven and accepted for who he was. And in this way he learned to accept himself. It wasn’t grace that he understood, it was grace that allowed him to accept himself.

Yes, the concept is good. And proof of concept is essential.

But that is where grace eludes us.

For in the human context I think it is unknowable.

And I’m a believer in science and in evolution.

Where does science explain grace?

Of all that is spiritual, of all that is heavenly and ethereal. Of all that is unknowable, grace is king.

Manning laid it out there for me. “Les Miserables” displayed it as art. Luther set the bar.

And they were all just going off an affable old character who in spite of being maligned by history, discarded, disbelieved, cast out and accused of being made up, first modeled grace for us.

They called him Jesus.