By Rev. Jim Otte
When was the last time you thought to yourself, “There but by the grace of God go I”?
It was probably in response to a traumatic calamity you avoided but that affected others in a significant way. Watching the news reports of the floods in Houston, the fires and the mudslides in California, and the earthquakes in other parts of the world have certainly generated that sentiment.
Have you ever wondered where that statement came from? I thought it was in the Bible, so I went looking for the verse. I was wrong. It’s attributed to an Englishman named John Bradford, who in the 1500s was watching a group of convicts being led to the gallows. It is thought that in the midst of that moment he uttered those famous words.
It’s a strange but very human way to think about God’s grace – that its mere presence in our lives ought to protect us from the difficulties of life. It’s almost like thinking that grace should be a kind of force field around us from which bad things would be repelled and only good things could penetrate.
St. Paul may have wrestled with that very thought. I think that was the point of the conversation between St. Paul and Jesus on the matter of his “thorn in the flesh.” For Paul, who had been struggling with this impediment, to have prayed to Jesus that He would take it away tells us the degree of his suffering.
And, yet, each time Jesus responded saying,
“My grace is sufficient for you.”
My sense of this is that Jesus was taking Paul through a shift in perspective, helping him move from thinking, “There but by the grace of God go I” to “There with the grace of God go I.”
In other words, no matter the thorns pricking you, His grace is sufficient. It is enough for the day.
Old Testament Israel learned that in the wilderness. The euphoria of leaving Egypt was a distant memory, and the grind of wilderness survival was taking its toll. Out of food, they cried to God. God sent His gift of manna with two tests of faith:
- Gather enough, sufficient for each day
- Consume it all each day, trusting that God would provide the next morning.
Sufficient meant then, as it does now, “enough for the day.”
God still gives the power of His grace to us today, for whatever the day might bring. Because it is “enough,” through Christ, we have what we need to face each day. Our only challenge is to use up all the grace during the day, trusting that He will replenish it tomorrow, as He promises.
Living in that daily grace will take you to a new perspective: “There, because of the grace of God, go I.”