God’s grace – what Brennan Manning defined as the acceptance of being profoundly and forever beloved by God – is a favorite subject of mine, I freely admit as much. I talk about grace, preach about grace, think about grace, and write about grace. I hope to one day actually understand grace.
Until that understanding comes, I’ll have to withstand the detractors who find my current knowledge of grace to be inadequate. They deem all my grace-speak as spiritual leniency – it’s far too graceful, I suppose. “You’ve turned the grace of God into nothing but a circus net,” one critic wrote not long ago, “which is a distortion of God’s holiness.”
Well, I am trying to understand, but I like the idea of a circus net. I like it a lot – it is a fortunate choice of words. For if I have indeed turned the grace of God into a circus net, it is because I know what it is like to lose my grip and fall. At such times the “net” had better be below me or I am a goner.
If you don’t believe me, go visit the Golden Gate Bridge. Constructed during the despair of the Great Depression, it became a California icon that has withstood the elements more than seventy years, and there are few living Americans who remember the San Francisco skyline without that bridge.
The roadway of the bridge is about 250 feet above the water. But the suspension towers, at their peak, are 750 feet high. Construction at this altitude, along with contrary winds, icy fog, unpredictable weather, and occasional seismic tremors from below, made for one of the most dangerous places to work in the world.
With all these factors added into the equation, the project moved at a snail’s pace. That is until the bridge’s chief engineer, Joseph Strauss, installed a gigantic safety net beneath the bridge. By giving the workers an increased sense of security, they progressed far more quickly and efficiently than before.
They were so efficient that the project came in at more than $1 million under budget – that’s in Depression era dollars – an outrageous pile of cash for the time. But the greatest savings wasn’t the money. It was the men working on the iron high in the air. Nineteen workers fell into that net during the construction of the Golden Gate Bridge and every one of them walked away without a scratch.
Having cheated death, these workers proclaimed themselves “The Halfway-To-Hell Club,” saved by that miraculous web of safety. But after all, wasn’t that why the net was installed in the first place? To save lives? To catch those who slipped and fell? To reclaim those who would have otherwise stumbled and bumbled their way to disaster?
I doubt that anyone in San Francisco at the time was concerned that Strauss’ net was “distorting” the integrity of the construction process. I am certain that the International Association of Bridge and Structural Iron Workers of America did not file a grievance against the Bridge Authority for promoting safer working conditions. And you can bet that the wives, children, and parents of “The Halfway-To-Hell Club” didn’t protest. They were just happy to have their loved ones come home at the end of the day.
So, is this grace? When we slip and fall will we actually be rescued by a soft landing in the catching, loving hands of God? Is God’s grace really a safety net? Yes, that seems to be the exact answer from the Scriptures and human experience. No fall is too far and no loss of grip is too foolish or irresponsible because God’s grace never loses its bounce, and “nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God.”
Does this make grace too easy? I don’t know, but until I do, I think I’ll stick with the venerable Charles Spurgeon’s counsel on the matter. “If people do not like the doctrine of grace,” he said, “then give them all the more of it.” Amen.