If I had to pick the one author who has changed my view of God more than any other, it would be Philip Yancey, by a landslide! The first book I read by him was called ‘What’s So Amazing About Grace?’ and it changed my world. ‘Grace’, in the LaQuiere-ite world, was a bad word. It meant ‘license to sin’. It was what all those despised mainstream church-goers gave as an excuse when they wanted to ignore God’s Law, and do whatever the heck they felt like. “We’re under grace, not the law!” they’d boast, and run around committing all sorts of felonious acts, from going to the movies, to wearing bikinis, to decorating their pagan christmas trees! That’s how I viewed grace. I didn’t even know what it was, just that I had been taught to sneer at it. My grandpa, my amazing, incredible, loving grandpa, tried to tell us about grace. It was his life’s theme: amazing grace, so sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me! I believed I was a wretch. I just thought I had to be saved by acting godly, not by “grace”, whatever that was. Joe LaQuiere had taught us to mock my grandpa and his faith. Just a silly old man, he said. I guess he never read the verse about how God has chosen the foolish things of this world to confound those who think they are wise!
I’ve always thought Philip Yancey’s title was perfect – it captured my thoughts exactly. What WAS so amazing about grace? I’d sung those words a thousand times as a small child sitting in the pews of our fine old baptist church. “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound!” I warbled, but grace was not a sweet sound to me. As a child, the words “grace will lead me home” were comforting, but as an adult, they meant nothing. Where was home? I hadn’t felt at home in a long time. I was still among the “dangers, toils and snares”, and I didn’t know grace. God was about to change all that.
Opening this book, and seeing grace face-to-face for the first time was shocking. What was this thing? This unearned thing, this free gift, that felt so wrong, but so right at the same time? I read stories that filled a hungry ache I didn’t know I had: Babette, and her gloriously wasteful feast costing “10,000 franks”, spent on a sad bunch of puritans who did not even realize what they were eating, and were stubbornly determined not to enjoy a mouthful; the priest in Les Miserables, who invited the convict Jean Valjean into his home, and who, after the ungrateful Valjean stole his precious silver candlesticks, announced to the police that he had given them to the convict “as a gift”…what was all this? I didn’t understand it. These people, they didn’t deserve anything! They shouldn’t be given anything! They needed to earn what they got. That I understood…that I needed to work for the crumbs I got. I wasn’t deserving, I knew I wasn’t. But here were these other wretches…and why were they being showered with riches? It was wrong, it was WRONG! But…it was right. It was good. It was…beautiful. It touched deep frozen places in my soul, and melted them into tears. I wanted it. I wanted this free gift, this scandalously free gift! I knew I could never earn it, never deserve it. I knew more than anyone how unworthy I was…would He really give it to me, unearned, unasked, unpaid for? It was like light, glorious light, breaking into my darkness. This, this was God! The Giver, and the Gift! He was offering it…to ME! I had left tears behind in my childhood. I hated them, I thought they were weakness. But the dawning of grace in my life broke open the floodgates. And for the first time in a long time, I cried.