by David Sisler

It is one of my all-time favorite T-shirt messages: "So many books, so little time."

In a world where we constantly seek new pleasures and new thrills, where gadgets and gadgetry become ends in themselves, there is a rare treasure, and a satisfying pleasure, to be found in a quiet house with a new book and a hot pot of coffee. To that end, allow me to suggest two books, whose titles sound worlds apart, but upon close reading, may not be so different at all.

The first is What's So Amazing About Grace? by Philip Yancey (Zondervan, 1997) and the second, America's Last Call by David Wilkerson (Wilkerson Trust Publications, 1998).

Yancey's book asks, "If grace is God's love for the undeserving, then what does it look like in action? And if Christians are its sole dispensers, then how are we doing at lavishing grace on a world that knows far more of cruelty and unforgiveness than it does of mercy?"

Describing his spiritual pilgrimage, Yancey says, "I rejected the church for a time because I found so little grace there. I returned because I found grace nowhere else." When asking strangers, "When I say the words ‘evangelical Christian' what comes to mind?" Yancey hears mostly political descriptions (they want to censor the Internet, hate gays, or are members of the Moral Majority). Not once, he says, has he "heard a description redolent of grace. Apparently that is not the aroma Christians give off in the world."

In a world where becoming "king of the hill" means earning your own way, scrambling over anyone you can, and generally practicing "ungrace," the concept of unmerited favor seems so utterly out of place. Showing how desperately we need grace, Yancey points to a story by Ernest Hemingway in which a Spanish father decides to reconcile with his son. The father places an ad in a popular newspaper, urging, "Paco meet me at the Hotel Montana noon Tuesday. All is forgiven." Paco is a common name in Spain and when the father arrived at the hotel, he found 800 young men named Paco waiting for their fathers.

Because we resist grace so fervently, we recoil at the idea that God makes his sun to shine on bad people as well as good people, that he sees to it the birds are never required to plant or plow, but eat free every day, that wildflowers burst into bloom with no one to husband them. Yancey writes, "The notion of God's love coming to us free of charge, no strings attached, seems to go against every instinct of humanity. The Buddhist eight-fold path, the Hindu doctrine of ‘karma,' the Jewish covenant, and Muslim code of law — each of these offers a way to earn approval. Only Christianity dares to make God's love unconditional."

Yancey retells the parable of the man who found a pearl of great price as a homeless wanderer who found a million dollar lottery ticket; the king who forgives an enormous debt becomes a venture capitalist who tears up the contract for a million dollar debt; and the prodigal son becomes a runaway daughter from Traverse City, Michigan. Each of these parables illustrates God's grace, a grace which has "no catch, no loophole to disqualify us from God's love. Each has at its core has an ending too good to be true — or so good that it must be true."

"What blocks forgiveness," Yancey continues, "is not God's reticence — ‘But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him' — but ours. God's arms are always extended; we are the ones who turn away."

David Wilkerson's book is not nearly so pleasant. Wilkerson believes that America is on the brink of a financial holocaust. He says that "our nation right now is receiving its final call to repentance." And that call he says, is our unparalleled prosperity. Wilkerson points to a civilization, very much like our own, which enjoyed extraordinary evidences of grace — booming businesses, extensive building projects, record harvests, and great celebrations — which lasted "until the day that Noah entered the ark." Examining scripture after scripture Wilkerson says that God's last extension of grace to a wayward nation is always his gracious gift of enormous prosperity. And historically Wilkerson warns, that grace has always been rejected. In the midst of so much, why, we ask, do we need God?

What is it about grace that it is so amazing? Could it be the fact that it is offered and offered again in the face of certain rejection?

One more quote from Philip Yancey: "Ask people what they must do to get to heaven and most reply, ‘Be good.' Jesus' stories contradict that answer. All we must do is cry, ‘Help!'"


Published in the Augusta Chronicle 12/26/98

Copyright 1998 by David Sisler. All Rights Reserved.

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