I took a lot of theology and philosophy classes in college. They were required.
I was one of those people who did well enough in high school by virtue of a knack for test-taking. What a shock to learn that real study skills would be necessary. Senior year, as graduation approached, I realized that I absolutely needed a "C" in my last, required, philosophy class. C's were pretty much standard in these classes for me, but this one, something about "logic" I think, seemed, well, illogical.
Since then I've learned a lot about how to learn and, if fact, try to figure out what virtually everything I encounter is trying to teach me. Matter of fact, when I went back to grad school about 20 years after my undergraduate studies, I pretty much doubled my G.P.A. I often wish I'd had those skills and that attitude way back when.
So, I'm driving east a few weeks ago on Pennsylvania Ave. by Grace United Methodist Church, one of our community's finest religious institutions. They have one of those signs on which they post thought-provoking messages. That day I read: "God's garage is bigger than your sin." God's garage? Let's see what might that mean. I figured the upcoming Sunday's lessons or Rev Kev's sermon might have something to do with that popular funeral reading. Jesus said something like: "In my Father's mansion there are many rooms." Nice image, isn't it? Rooms for all of us who believe. I have to admit, though, that it never crossed my mind that there was a garage. I guess I always assumed and envisioned a bunch of nice suites like an upscale hotel. But a garage?
I suppose even God's garage would be pretty nice. Not as full of disorganized stuff like mine.
Then I wondered if God has a big garage, does he drive a big vehicle? Maybe a white Hummer with gold instead of chrome trim. Maybe he made room for a boat or an ATV. I suppose he needs a pretty big tractor or whatever they use to keep clouds under control. Maybe a workbench? A closet full of tools? But if he has all that stuff in his garage, then how can it be one of those rooms Jesus went to prepare? Did Jesus say, "Hey Dad, I had to move all the stuff out of the garage to make room for some new arrivals." This was less logical than my logic class in 1969. But what was the message? What was I to learn?
I ran my errand and headed back west. I looked at the sign again. What it really said was: "God's GRACE is bigger than your sin." Ohhhhhhhhhh, this is a classic principle of the Christian theology that I understand! A Pastor and mentor once sermonized that we sin and it's the equivalent of stumbling and falling into the dirt. God picks us up, brushes us off, kicks us in the butt, and says, "give it another try, you can do better next time." That pastor had a delivery that made sense to everyone.
My experience was a pretty good example of what Pastor was preaching. I got it wrong when I misread the sign and that took me in all kinds of wild and crazy thought places. On the way back, I got it right.
The idea of grace is broader than that religious idea of forgiveness and encouragement. People without strict religious underpinnings can be gracious and accept the graciousness of others too. Call it forgiveness, call it understanding, call it giving a second chance.
You can survive a mistake, even a huge screw-up if you have an atmosphere of grace around you. Good thing, too, or philosophers like me would be in big trouble.
Gary Lester directs Leadership Warren County and is a counselor with Family Services of Warren County. Warren Gives returns this Wednesday May 14 and Family Services hopes you will consider making a contribution towards its charitable work.