I’m a pretty safe driver. I’m a safe driver for a lot of reasons. One reason is that I hate the idea of getting a ticket. I’ve gotten pulled over for speeding before, and it sucks. It’s expensive. It’s a pain. You know that feeling you get when you drive past a squad car going a little over the speed limit, and then you look in your rear view mirror, hoping it doesn’t pull out? I hate that feeling. This, combined with the simple fact that I don’t want to die, is the reason I drive safely. I get passed a lot on the interstate.
I don’t go exactly the speed limit (partly because the way people drive, that in itself would be somewhat unsafe), but I’m never the lead car either. I have realized that in the course of driving somewhere, I have to make many decisions. Should I pass? Should I wait behind this truck for the exit? Should I change lanes now? Each decision usually involves either speeding up or slowing down. Whenever I’m driving, and I have a decision to make that can be boiled down to this, I almost always choose the option of slowing down. Maybe it’s not always the best choice, but it seems like a good rule of thumb.
“I choose to err on the side of grace.” A seminary professor of mine said that once in class. He was not talking about driving. He was talking about interpreting the Bible.
The Bible can be interpreted a lot of ways. With any given issue, people of faith can go to the same Bible, pray to the same God, seek out the same Holy Spirit, and come up with very different answers. Take any issue: homosexuality, immigration, the treatment of the poor, abortion, gender roles, warfare, capital punishment, gun rights, euthanasia, the environment, education, etc. and people of faith will come to very difficult conclusions.
Some try to group these things into neat little packages like liberal and conservative. I’m not a fan of those labels, or of any labels really. I think most people are more complicated than our labels. I know that the world is.
That said, I think my seminary professor was right. He taught a lot about grace and the Hebrew word hessed, which he translated as “God’s steadfast love.” When asked once about God’s judgment he said (more or less), “For most issues, people lean either on God’s grace or on God’s judgment. When I think about those two sides, I choose to err on the side of grace.”
It might not always be the right choice, but it seems like a good rule of thumb to me. I choose to err on the side of grace. Some may think that sounds wishy-washy. Some may say that I am preaching “cheap grace.” I understand if you think that, but I disagree.
I choose to err on the side of grace because I love and respect the Bible too much to narrowly focus on a few verses that do otherwise. I choose to err on the side of grace even when it is inconvenient, unfair, or unsavory. I choose to err on the side of grace because when I look at the Biblical story, that is what I see my God doing time and again. Yes, there are moments of God’s judgment. Surely there are warnings of dire consequences as a result of sin. But I believe that the story of God’s redeeming love, mercy and forgiveness permeates the entire Bible.
The good news of Jesus Christ rests on the grace of God. Above all, that is why I err on the side of grace – because that is what I believe Jesus did. That is why he invited sinners to be his disciples. That is why he ate with tax collectors and pharisees. He healed gentiles and children and women. He forgave the unforgiven and welcomed the unwelcome. Time and again he leaned on the grace of God and for it he was betrayed, denied, abandoned and crucified.
So yes, I err on the side of grace. It’s not always the easy choice, but it seems like a good rule of thumb to me.