I recently read Marilyn Robinson’s novel, Home. A central character is a man who, after a rebellious and troubled childhood, left home. After twenty years of questionable living he returns to the family home in Gilead, Iowa. His father and sister offer the prodigal grace and do their best to make him feel at ease. But no matter how hard they try, Jack still feels like he does not belong in his own home, like he does not deserve to be there. Likewise, he feels like he does not belong in their faith. He is portrayed as incapable of receiving grace, as a man who desperately wants to find a home, but cannot.
I know people like Jack. They are not hostile to Christianity. Some of them even wish they could embrace the Christian faith. But they feel they are not good enough, will never measure up to the perceived standards. At the end of the day, they cannot accept grace.
Sometimes even Christians feel this way. Despite our talk of salvation by grace, we really don’t believe it. We think that if we don’t say yes to teaching Sunday School, sit on at least 5 committees, walk in the Right to Life walk, and feed the homeless once a week, we really don’t deserve a place at the table.
So what is the answer to all of this?
Jack and people like Jack are partially right. Apart from Christ, we do not deserve to be in a relationship with God. We deserve the alienation that we caused by our sin.
But that is not the end of the story.
In Christ, we do deserve a place at the table with the Triune God. All we need do is accept the gift God has given to us in Christ. In other words, the feeling that we really don’t measure up is right. We don’t. Recognizing that about ourselves is good.
But we shouldn’t wallow in that feeling. We need to move on to the recognition that we have been invited to the table by God himself. All we need do is accept the invitation with gratitude.
Extended focus on our unworthiness will throw a roadblock of despair on the highway of grace,
impeding any forward progress in our relationship with God, and maybe blocking that relationship altogether. The good news is that in Christ we are worthy. The response to that news, is a life of gratitude. In other words, we live not in order to receive grace, but out of gratitude for the grace already received.