Some of the strangest insights come to me at funerals.
I know that sounds odd, but when I'm thinking of someone who has just died, I guess it's understandable if I begin to consider how fleeting life is, the promises of Scripture, or the meaning of salvation.
At this particular funeral, I was thinking about grace.
The officiant—the Rev. Dr. Steve Proctor, a retired Lutheran minister—was trying, I believe, to comfort us in our loss. Perhaps he wanted to assure those of us who might be wondering how ready we would be if our time on earth was up. He said he had what might be considered a radical definition of grace:
“Grace means that God loves you, whether you love him back or not.”
Now that simple statement took awhile to sink in, but I haven't been able to get it out my mind. Of course I had always understood grace to mean unmerited favor from God…undeserved blessings. But what an extra leap of faith it takes to believe God loves us, even if we don't love him back.
It means God loves me when I'm my most unlovable.
It means God loves me when I'm angry with him or doubt him.
It means God loves my loved ones who don't believe in him.
I do not want to get into an argument about who goes to Heaven and who goes to Hell and what we have to do to ensure one or the other. I don't expect to know the answer to that until I die, and I don't plan to waste emotional energy on judging others whose choices I can't control.
But what I do believe is this: everything—and I mean everything—Jesus taught was grounded in love and in the imperative that we are to love one another. So of course it makes perfect sense that God's own love for us would be perfect and unconditional.
So as I contemplate the certainty that my life will end some day, I could get all balled up in thinking of my bucket list and how many things I should be doing before I run out of time. But instead, this definition of grace sets me free to do the only thing that really matters—to make sure God's love shines through me in every person I encounter between now and when I take my last breath.
I won't always succeed. I will be imperfect. I will undoubtedly cause hurt to someone I love. I will inevitably disappoint someone or not live up to my full potential. I will forget God's priorities and substitute my own.
But thanks be to God, his grace is freely given and I am loved. No matter what.
And so are you!