Posted by: Robert A. Holsapple | December 8, 2009


One of the chief benefits of being a seminarian is getting to explore beliefs and systems of belief that others either take for granted or simply assume have the full weight of tradition and faith to back them up.  While somewhat reluctant at first to take on the proverbial “sacred cows” of Christianity, I have come to understand that this journey in fact requires that I take them on front and center.  One of the chief doctrines that have long been the subject of personal faith and interpretation is the doctrine of grace.

In a class on systematic theology some thirty seminarians recently posited their beliefs and conceptions concerning grace, and in the final analysis we appeared to be for the most part far off the mark.  Alternately we construed grace as the gift of our Creator, unmerited and incapable of being paid for in any meaningful way; the natural consequence of professing a saving faith in Jesus Christ; or the natural result of the primordial act of creation itself.  As we thought about it out loud, shared ideas and were skillfully guided in our exploration by Professor Loida Martell-Otero, we discovered that grace indeed does abound all around us.

Grace, more than anything else is about relationship; between ourselves as created beings, between ourselves and our God of creation; and ultimately between one aspect of God the creator and another.  Grace it would appear is all around us and impacts on every aspect of our daily lives.  Imagine if you will the last time you were the recipient of some favor or something of value that you knew without a doubt that you had in no manner earned. These very things are the sum and substance of grace.

Is it possible that we can separate grace from God; perhaps attribute it to chance or circumstance of perhaps just the unseen consequence of some as-yet-unknown action on either our part or that of others?  Yes, of course it is possible.  But is it probable? No I do not think so.  For me, as a person of Christian faith, it makes no sense whatsoever that our experience is nothing more than the random occurrence of events that have no direct bearing on or are in no way influenced by a Creator of unfathomable proportions.  It does make complete sense that even in our post-modern, post enlightenment culture there are at work all about us forces that defy our logical, scientific or psychological understanding.

Faith on its own is one of these unfathomable ousia, and so I suggest is grace.   Both have at their very core that which defies logical, scientific or psychological explanation.  Both are manifestations of the spiritual realm of things that is not bound by any particular religious or denominational boundary and certainly not bound by scientific or philosophic formulations of the mind of humankind.  Both require a belief in something for which there is no objectively quantifiable data or verifiable experience.  Both in fact require that we suspend our disbelief and not give in to the simple explanation that is easily within our grasp.

Grace, I learn, is not a word that is found in the Old Testament of the Bible; nor is it directly found in the four gospels that are the foundation of the New Testament scripture.  Grace however, abounds when we examine the travails of the Jews in the Old Testament as they are freed from captivity in Egypt, as they spent years wandering in the wilderness, and as Israel time and again was able to conquer tribes and armies which had far superior numbers or firepower than they.  Grace was there for the new religion in the early centuries of the Common Era and more so in modern times when the history of mankind on earth appeared headed towards mutually assured self-destruction.

Grace is present when the homeless, single parent finds the way to make it through yet another day despite grizzly statistics that would indicate their imminent demise.  Grace is the unwanted child who grows to maturity at the hands of surrogate parents in the midst of poverty and overwhelming vulnerability on so many fronts.  Grace is this seminarian being able to write this column despite having never before given much considered thought to this matter.

Grace, as I am coming to understand, is the magnificent, outward manifestation of a deep seated love that can only exist in the community of God; a community such as we have here at the CA and at Penn where every day we are amazed anew at God’s incredible and unimaginable love for God’s creation. Let us take time today to reflect on the many ways in which the grace of God lifts our experience of life far beyond our limited abilities and dreams.



  1. I must clarify something here: when I wrote above that Grace is not “directly found in the four gospels” I was obviously in error. It is in fact found in John 1:16-17: “From [Jesus] fullness we have all received grace upon grace. The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” (NRSV) This grace however, is that which is directly conveyed through the life and atoning death of Jesus Christ and is separate and apart from that Grace which is the subject of the column above. My sincerest apology if this was in any manner misleading to any reader. Rob

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