When I first began interacting with Evangelicals in high school, I remember being deeply offended by the idea of being completely forgiven, having all my past sins washed away, and being made completely anew. I wasn’t raised a Christian; I was raised in the Unification Church, a sect that taught that God may grant forgiveness but never forgets about our transgressions and that our spirits are permanently scarred by certain sins. We were also taught a concept called indemnity, which the Divine Principle (the text of Unificationism) defined as “the making of such conditions of restitution” and “God’s work to restore people to their true, unfallen state by having them fulfill indemnity conditions.” Basically, we had to pay for our sins. There was no “get out of Hell free card”. There was suffering, as well as intentional conditions (such as fasting), in this life or in the next, to have your sins undone.
Eventually, the offense in my heart toward this Christian idea of forgiveness turned into a longing; a God so abundant in forgiveness seemed incredibly absurd and irrational, and yet so beautiful and glorious.
After I succumbed into the grace of Christ and settled into the faith, I was constantly begging God to re-forgive me and wipe off all the offenses I may have piled on throughout the day. I perceived God to be constantly disappointed and unable to interact with me because of my lack of holiness. There was an obvious disconnect from this initial grace I met in Jesus and how the Church started teaching grace to me. I do not doubt that somehow even remnants of the legalism I was raised in tainted my view of God. Later on I encountered what many have called “hyper-grace” teaching, which is often associated with a crowd of hyper-charismatics known for experiencing a feeling of intoxication on the presence of God. The premise of their teaching was that all sin—past, present, and future—has already been forgiven and that a Christian’s being was made God’s permanent residence.
Again, I was offended by such a teaching, and spent some time railing against those who believed such things. I counted my malicious behavior towards those who believed such things as righteous or godly anger. And yet, somehow, I also gained this revelation. Richard Rohr, in “Falling Upward”, says, “Before the truth sets you free, it tends to make you miserable.” I can testify to how true that can be. Coming to believe that nothing I could do would offend God or cause him to flee from my life felt incredibly liberating. It felt like a fresh baptism of the Holy Spirit. Despite the fact that this teaching was so thoroughly informed by penal substitution and despite the poor exegesis that brought me to such a revelation, I still hold on to the essence of this idea.
I cannot deny the newness of life that lives within me. I cannot deny the presence of my inward Teacher. I cannot deny that my desires have been transformed by the Spirit. I cannot deny that my God is faithful and never gives up on me. And I cannot deny that something in my core, something fundamental about me, has been completely made new, or restored, or renovated, or something to that effect.
I count it as one of the highest blessings to know that God holds nothing against me, though my theology behind that statement is a whole lot different than it was four years ago.
I also count it as a blessing to live in the tension of the already/not yet–to have a life that is a tapestry of darkness and light, that is a testimony to death of Christ, alongside the resurrection, and that is a testament to the incarnation of my God.
I still hold on to spiritual authority and the power of words, something preachers like Kenneth Hagin have taught heavily on; though we likely nuance all of this very differently. I am sympathetic to Derek Vreeland’s reconstruction of “Word of Faith” theology. All of that being said, the days of denying my pains, my flaws, and my sins for the sake of declaring some truer reality are gone. Such practices at times were healing, but too often they were delusional. This one-dimensional view of grace is undoubtedly freeing, especially initially, but it also can be extremely unhealthy.
I accept that the life of my spirit, the one occupied by God’s Spirit, is glorious and is in some sense my truest reality. But I also accept that in its entirety, my life and actions have not always been as glorious. I’ve wronged many people and went about things with an ungodly heart. I have a lot to reconcile in my life, continually, by grace and through grace.
The darkness of life, though, has its place in our lives. We shouldn’t always try to immediately heal ourselves of it. We ought not to simply cast it off at its very sight. No, we can learn from this darkness. Often times it is the perfect place to dwell on the cross of Christ and to partake of his suffering (2 Corinthians 1:5, 1 Peter 4:13), so that we may partake in his resurrection even more. Even if this darkness, whether it be suffering or sin, is not initially from God, I think that God can still use it to teach us something. God is the redeemer of all things, of all situations, and will miraculously find a way to pull Light out of any darkness.
You see, there is something precious about our brokenness. I do not want to romanticize suffering or darkness in any form, because Lord knows “the thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy” and that Christ came so “that [his sheep] may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10). That being said, God’s grace finds it way into all things on this side of heaven, even what the enemy throws at us.
I am thankful that Christ has led me here, to these simplest of revelations. Perhaps it is all semantics, but I count the days of my ardent Calvinism, of my hyper-charismaticism, and of my Quakerism all informative, and I cannot deny that God was in it all. It’s been five years following Jesus, and I’ve heard grace spewed out in all sorts of ways–most of it helpful, lots of it harmful, and all of it lacking. But I suppose grace works that way, in how it finds you where you are, and never stops shocking you with its implications and its power.