JACKSON, Tenn. – March 17, 2005 – God’s grace can be awful and isn’t always as amazing as Christians like to think, a preaching professor said at Union University March 16.
“We talk about grace, but always benevolently,” said Robert Smith, professor of Christian preaching at Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham, Ala. “What about grace in a malevolent way? We’re so selective in our lifting up passages about grace.”
Smith spoke at a chapel service to Union students about God’s awful grace, and said that type of grace is necessary if Christians are to appreciate God’s amazing grace.
He quoted a passage from the Greek playwright Aeschylus, who once wrote, “Even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.”
“Is this the inception of insanity, to talk about grace as awful?” Smith asked. “Is this the initiation of dementia? Is this bare blasphemy? Is this pure perversity? Has this man gone mad to refer to God’s grace as the awful grace of God? Or, has he put his finger on the pulsating heartbeat of an attribute of God that we want to avoid?”
Smith said passages such as Job 37:22, in the King James Version, describe God as “terrible.” Other verses describe the value of suffering, such as Paul’s account in 2 Corinthians 13 of the thorn in his flesh.
“Is it possible that the awful grace of God permits in our lives what the amazing grace of God promotes in terms of God’s will and design and purpose for our lives?” Smith asked. He suggested that amazing grace and awful grace are not antithetical to each other, but coexist. They are, he said, opposite sides of the coin of grace “within the currency of the divine economy of God.”
Much like Jacob, whose hip was dislocated after he wrestled with God, “You and I can never experience transformation until God dislocates some things in our lives,” Smith said.
He used Psalm 23 as an example to make his point and suggested that Christians too often are in hurry to get to the banquet table described at the end of the psalm.
“You can’t get to the banquet table where he prepares a table before you in the presence of the enemies and runs you over with his joy until you have walked through the valley of the shadow of death,” Smith said. “And the one who prepares the banquet table before you is the one who says, ‘You don’t have to fear evil, because I’m with you in the valley as well as at the banquet table.’
“It is the awful grace of God that takes you through the valley in order that when you come to the banquet table of the amazing grace of God, you can appreciate the trip that he has brought you through.”