Grace Beyond Accounting

The St. Sebastian Review is a biannual online journal of creative writing by GLBT Christians and allies. In the introduction to the third issue, released today, editor Carolyn E.M. Gibney writes about what she has learned about grace because of the love she shares with her partner:

I was raised Presbyterian with a Calvinist bent, which meant that I was taught as a child that I –
everyone – was totally depraved. That any possible goodness that seemed to come from us was
in fact the grace of God pouring through us. This meant that grace was the source of every good
thing, the right focus of our deepest thanks. As harsh as it sounds, and sometimes was, there are
worse things to believe in than the ubiquity of grace.

Even so, in this context, the word “grace” seemed to me to take on a counter-intuitive meaning:
rather than obliterating the calculus of good and evil, as the word seems to imply, it offered
instead that there was a debt too great for any one human to pay – namely, our depravity, and
the havoc wrought thereby – and that grace was the undeserved payment of that debt. In the
bookkeeping of salvation, grace was an infinite sum proffered on our behalf. But infinity is still a
number – or, at least, a direction of numbers. There are still books being kept.

Growing up, I didn’t recognize when I started to begrudge this understanding of grace as both
an accusation and what felt like a condescending response to that accusation. Even if the debt
had been miraculously paid, I didn’t want to interact with a God who would, at any point, hold
an infinite debt against me. I didn’t want a God beholden to the calculus of sin. Instead, I
wanted grace to mean what it seemed to imply – something beautiful, meaningful, humbling –
something that did not exist simply because something else was lacking. I wanted, and continue
to want, grace to be itself a priori. A synonym of “love” rather than a synonym of “payment.”

I’m not sure I understood grace in that sense until I met Brita. How something could pass
completely outside the realm of what is deserved to a realm where things are not responses but
themselves entirely. A grace that I do not resent, or feel condescends to me, a love that does not
calculate, but overflows.

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