Grace is a mystery
The Rev. Betty Hanna-Witherspoon, pastor of the Ebenezer AME Church, Kansas City, Mo.: A definition of grace is “an undeserved favor or gift; the undeserved forgiveness, kindness and mercy that God gives us.” African Methodists turn to Romans 3:23-24 to understand the free gift of salvation as grace, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.”
I suspect that the people who use the word “grace” in the way it is used in the submitted question are expressing their amazement that their houses still stand while their neighbors’ houses are destroyed.
In their minds there is no logical explanation. This is not something that they could have expected or even had a right to expect. It is certainly not because they are better people than their neighbors. We pray. Our prayers are answered. Our neighbors’ are not. We don’t know; can’t understand why.
It is a mystery of God. Some call it a quirk of fate, but for believers, a mystery of God. It is a pleasant surprise, an unexpected present that can only be called the grace of God — an undeserved favor or gift.
Then we participate in the mystery by blessing others as we have been blessed. He helps his neighbor to rebuild his house. Because he has been given grace he now bestows grace.
Pay grace forward
Rabbi Mark H. Levin, Congregation Beth Torah, Overland Park, Kan.: People look for patterns in the universe that will give meaning to their lives. We mentally construct our personal worlds so that our lives and our deaths matter cosmically.
We often look for explanations of good events that demonstrate to us that our existence possesses significance in the greater realm of Creation, that God favors us individually.
Many people do, indeed, as your question indicates, believe that their good fortune is a sign of personal divine favor.
But there is more to the truly religious response. To believe that you are blessed is indeed a good insight. But what is your reaction? Do you then go brag about the good news, which sounds prideful?
Or might your response be to spread the grace you have received from the hand of God by increasing the blessings you give to others?
Do you voluntarily rebuild your neighbor’s home because God saved yours? Is God’s grace a reward or a motivational lesson?
Religious people are God’s instruments, not God’s beneficiaries. Recently a friend stopped at a casino on a whim and won a good sum. He has sent at least 10 percent to a charity.
“Pay it forward” demonstrates how “acts of loving kindness” motivate others to follow suit. We bring God into the world when we magnify God’s grace to create a web of blessings for others.