Column: Why grace and favour are two very different things

Rt Rev Geoff Pearson, Bishop of Lancaster
Rt Rev Geoff Pearson, Bishop of Lancaster

Last week my grandson disobediently took a bouncy ball outside, where it bounced away down a drain never to be seen again.

His uncle, upon hearing his distress, sent him not just one, but 10 bouncy balls in its place. That’s grace.

A few days later my grandson caused his sister much consternation by trying to release her helium balloon out of a window.

“Don’t worry,” he said to her. “Uncle Che will give you 10 more!”

That is a canny two-and-a-half year old, but also an illustration of what Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German theologian, termed ‘cheap grace’.

It set me thinking about grace – where it appears in our everyday lives, how we should react to it and how we teach our children the cost of grace.

I pinpoint a couple of areas. In one city (not Lancaster) residents have become increasingly angry and disillusioned with students.

Ten years ago students played pranks and held loud parties at the end of term. Now, so I am told, some students hire loud speaker systems and hot tubs for house parties mid-week.

They jump on cars, knock over bins and leave piles of rubbish out. Is this acceptable behaviour? Of course not, but when challenged the students say they have a right to behave as they wish because they have paid to be students.

What they don’t seem to appreciate is that it is not possible to earn intelligence or inherited wealth. These students do not see that they are in their privileged positions due to threads of grace. Instead they choose their perceived rights over responsibilities – making everyone the poorer for it.

In addition, someone has come up with a novel way of feeding their baby at the same time as using their tablet or iPad. The joy of that baby staring into your eyes as he or she feeds is lost by some addiction to the electronic media. The privilege of parenthood is undermined by a misguided work ethic. Grace is snatched away by a distracting foe.

Let’s not lose or undervalue the grace given to each one of us. Equally let us be quick to show grace to others, even babies, however costly that may be.