Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Degrees of Grace

A few weeks I was asked a question it went something like this...
'Isn't the idea of any one person going to hell infinitely worse than the idea that Jesus could have gone to the cross and died for us?'
Now my answer to this question revolves around one central difference.
Hell is the place where people get what they deserve.
The cross is the place where Jesus takes something which is diametrically opposed to what he deserves.

This led to some development of some rambling thoughts I have been struggling to keep in check and articulate for a while. You see the Bible repeatedly talks about judgment in ways which show that one of the central characteristics of God's judgment is that people get what they deserve. Often the picture is of things being reversed (for example the plunderer is plundered, the one who abuses creation finds that creation turns on it etc - see Habakkuk 2). Now if this is the case I want to suggest that perhaps we need to re-evaluate our view of hell. People have talked about hell as the absence of God, as natural consequences of the lives we lead, of penalty from God for our rebellion and so the debate rages. This got me asking the question of what, if like the gospel itself, it is all about grace.

What if in essence life comes down to what grace you receive?
1 - Partial Grace - The life we all lead now. We experience some of God's grace but not all of it. We do not suffer the consequences (be they natural or supernatural) for all the moments of our lives but nor are we spared from them all. We enjoy God dealing with us graciously to a degree.
2 - Complete Grace - This is what historically people have called heaven. This is where we enjoy God's grace in it's fullness. We enjoy his blessing, his forgiveness, his pardon and his acceptance absolutely. Here we live as recipients of grace and practitioners of grace in an existence where grace is the norm.
3 - No Grace - This is what historically people have called hell. This is where God ceases to pour his grace on us in any way and we stop relating to each other with any grace at all. As a result what do we end up with? Well we end up in an existence where all we get is precisely what we deserve. Having rejected God and seen grace as unnecessary, impossible or offensive then we no longer enjoy even the partial grace God blesses us with during this life.

This may be heresy for all I know but I think this seems to reflect the way the Bible talks about this world, heaven, judgment and the gospel. Perhaps this can help us re-evaluate our view of God's judgment and start to realise just why understanding and accepting grace is so crucial, not just for now but for forever.


  1. interesting stuff. It's probably a pointless question but would a person in hell recognise that they are getting what they deserve (and what we all deserve apart from God's grace)? Or would it be an extension of the attitude in this life that rejects grace because they don't think they need it?

  2. Not sure. My inclination would be that our love for self would be unchecked in hell and as such like so often in this world we would recognise the pain but still keep pursuing the cause of it and so continue rejecting grace etc.

  3. Very thought provoking!

    I'm not sure I'm with you on the partial grace in this life though. I think it's true for non-Christians (i.e. they get common grace), but do we not know fully God's grace. e.g. God uses all things for the good of those who love him - isn't that God turning around difficult stuff, in his grace, for our good?

  4. Interesting thoughts. I think I still hold by it though.
    I am not spared from all the natural consequences of events (broken legs, hearts, relationships etc) and then you have the N.T. stuff about people being judged for rebellion (communion in Corinth etc) which seems to refer to believers.
    However, I do agree that there is a difference between Christians and Non-Christians during their time on earth. But I think this is in degree not an absolute state.