In light of the Pope's visit and the media frenzy over his messages and speeches, it seems appropriate to ask where any homily, speech or interview spoke of the grace of God. He spoke of many things and church leaders were on all forms of media also speaking about economics, wealth, and the environment.
Where was the beautiful powerful message of God's grace? It was and continues to be lost in a lack of understanding of what grace is.
A study by highly respected Notre Dame Sociologist Christian Smith on teen spirituality in America found the view of God among young people in America who are Christians does not include a reliance on God's grace. Studies show that these are the same views of their parents. Smith's conclusion about American beliefs is summed up well by Michael Horton:
Smith called this predominant view "Moralistic Therapeutic Deism." It is moralistic in that adherents believe it's all about how to solve life's problems in order to be happy. And it's deistic because they assume God created the world and then stepped away to let it run its course.
Smith concluded that for Americans: "Being religious is about being good and it's not about forgiveness ... It's unbelievable the proportion of conservative Protestant teens who do not seem to grasp the elementary concepts of the gospel concerning grace ... it's across all traditions."
Without a framework for grace we are left with religion and morality in a vacuum. Everything is boiled down to checklists of right and wrong, and we are tempted to become smug, feeling superior in our "goodness." We start to think we are better, we have it all "together," and we have it figured out. We aren't like "those" people.
In our arrogance, we merely substitute our own pious actions over God's. If we believe or act as if a person gets to heaven because they live good lives, then we still don't fully understand the message of grace.
Grace means the undeserved favor of God. Grace communicates that no matter how good or bad you have been, you’ll never be good enough. Jesus lived and died in your place and your salvation is not about your own acts of goodness, but about God’s mercy and forgiveness.
We're all sinners who desperately need grace every day. As we are continually amazed by grace, we become less interested in one-upping each other on the "good" scale but in living before God with gratefulness and generosity because of His goodness to us. We gladly face the many barriers that separate us from experiencing grace and move through them. Only then can we come alive in the fullness of His joy and the purpose for which He created us.
Maybe part of the problem is that we try to wrap our minds around the concept of grace to some degree, but do we live like it? Grace will always be outlandish, wild, unpredictable, underserved. Based on human logic, or even on the way most people would feel, God's grace is certifiably crazy or it is not grace.