A: So what’s this “grace” stuff you keep on about?
B: It’s…complicated. Ha! Not really; I just wanted to say that. But seriously – perhaps because it’s been debated about so much by so many, one might be justified in saying that it really is “complicated.” Here’s what I think about grace. I’ve mentioned before the possibility that God’s happiness may be more about “being” than “having.” Well, none of us are anywhere close to the Being that God is by the time we die. I mean, old people know a lot of stuff, yes, but I’d hardly call them “omniscient,” for one thing, and they certainly ain’t “omnipotent,” for another. So obviously something is going to have to be done to make up the difference. Sure, we might continue to learn stuff after this life, but I imagine the major part of this difference is taken care of by what one might call grace.
A: Does everyone receive grace? Can I just declare belief in God to have it ensured to me after I die, and then continue on my merry way for the rest of my life, doing whatever it is I feel like doing?
B: Grace is “after all we can do.” Otherwise, we would be undermining God’s commandments. Furthermore, grace will not be applied to improve us against our will. Suppose, for instance, that you are sexually immoral throughout this life. Since God is not sexually immoral, you would have to be rid of that habit to experience His happiness. But what makes you think that your desire for sexual promiscuity will suddenly be lost after you die? Throughout this life, you’ll have demonstrated that your desire is not for chastity, but if God applied grace to suddenly make you chaste, He would be doing this against your desire, that is, your will. But that contradicts His guarantee of our freedom of choice. Therefore, grace cannot improve us to the point of overriding our will. God will bless us with as much of His grace as He can, but only insofar as our true desires for it will allow.
Grace is not earned in the sense of “if I do amount of repentance, I’ll get amount of grace,” as if is a positively-correlated function of . God is the judge of how much grace we will receive. But I am certain that He will not give His utmost bounty of grace to an unrepentant soul, regardless of how many times he may have declared with his mouth that he believes. Remember, it’s only given “after all we can do,” and if we have deliberately held back efforts to repent, why should we expect grace to make up for it?
Another attribute of God’s we’ll need some grace to help achieve is His perfection. How can we be made perfect when we’ve made all the errors and bad choices we have in this life? They all amount to an enormous debt that would have to be paid before we can attain to perfection, and if we were to pay for it, the suffering entailed may be even more enormous. In fact, it may be that God would not even accept our payment of it, if, say, the punishment for each one of our rebellious actions is eternal banishment from His presence. Either way, considering these two descriptions of this hurdle – the one unimaginably high and the other impossibly so – there would obviously have to be another way for which these sins can be atoned for us to enjoy God’s happiness. I’m not sure how other religions explain how we can conquer this obstacle, but Christians generally believe that Jesus of Nazareth (ca. 1-34 A.D.), called “Christ” (i.e., “Messiah”), was actually the Only Begotten Son of God in the flesh, as He said He was, and, by virtue of this and His own perfection (meaning He never made a wrong choice during His life), was able and willing to take upon Himself the enormous burden of the sins of every individual who ever lived, or ever will live, on Earth, and atone for them in a great act called simply – and yet majestically – “The Atonement.” In fact, many Christians believe that this One Grand Act, made at the end of the Christ’s mortal life, not only pays the debt for our sins, but also enables grace in general; that is, not only does The Atonement help us in acquiring the Godly attribute of Perfection, but all of His other attributes as well. So when we are blessed by God’s grace after this life (and possibly, as some believe, even during this life), in reality we are experiencing the effects of The Atonement.
A: Dude. That was one heck of an act.
B: Literally, yes.
A: So all my sins have been paid for already? I’m good to go?
B: Er – I should mention that one of the conditions of The Atonement was that we accept Christ’s interposition of Himself for us, meaning we have to accept His terms, and His terms are that we repent and obey His commandments, which really are just God’s commandments.
A: So I still end up having to obey all those blasted commandments?! What’s the bally use of The Atonement then?!
B: The difference comes in the fact that now we CAN repent, whereas before we couldn’t. You recall that I suggested that it could be that God won’t accept our payment of our own sins? That means that the instant we commit even the smallest of sins, including even when we stole some gum from the candy store at a young age, we’re lost forever. Well, with The Atonement, now our sins can be paid for, our debt can be forgiven, and we have a chance at claiming God’s happiness.
Let me say this about The Atonement: I don’t know how it was done and I don’t know all the details of how it works. All I really know about it is what I’ve already said, and that it was absolutely necessary for us to eventually be blessed with God’s happiness. I have a bunch of other beliefs about it, yes, but I don’t claim to be an authority on the subject and I refuse to mention anything further about it at this time. There have been, however, innumerable commentaries written about it, as one might imagine, foremost of which include the scriptures themselves; if you want to know more about it – which I would strongly recommend, by the way – you should look there early and often. Also, the “Spirit” that I’ve mentioned before would be a big help as well.
A: Not being “an authority on the subject” hasn’t stopped you before.
B: True. Of course I could go on about it if I liked, just as I could with anything. But I prefer not to because anything else I would have to say about it is not really necessary to the rest of what I have to say. Which is quite a lot. Listen, I gotta go…