How many times have we heard Christian sisters and brothers quote, almost as if straight from the Bible, “There but for the grace of God go I”! The sentiment is a kind one. We see someone less fortunate, and we repeat this much recited response in well-meaning sympathy, acknowledging that this person is a valuable human being and that we could have just as easily been the ones in that person’s situation.
So far so good, but have we ever stopped to think what that simple sentence really means? To believe that it is only by God’s grace that we have been spared such misfortune, is to also say something perhaps we do not really mean: that the person to whom our sympathy is directed is outside the grace the God. Think about it: I have God’s grace; therefore I am not in that situation. That other person is in that situation, so s/he is lacking God’s grace. We could then go so far as to say that God’s grace is withheld from every person whose life has met challenges, and that when we go through challenges we are outside of God’s grace too . . .
Of course this philosophy is flawed. It misrepresents the God of love and mercy, and it cheapens the real meaning and depth of God's amazing grace, which I doubt has anything to do with this life's circumstances. Misfortune and hardship are a certainty in this life, but God's grace, mercy and love extend to every human being no matter what life circumstances s/he might encounter. Can we replace "but for the grace of God go I" with words that better represent God's grace, or perhaps just replace it with a loving smile and a silent prayer for the other person?