A theologian articulates grace in relation to forgiveness, reciprocity and the person of God.
All athletes know this feeling: after a great effort, when you stand up, open your arms and take a deep breath, it is as if life has entered into you again. Or, more generally, when at the first rays of the spring sun, we open the window wide to let in the sun and the buzzing life. What do we feel good about these moments!
To me, these sensations remind me of what I feel when I give thanks to someone. I also feel this movement of opening, opening of the arms to welcome and release my heart.
Because not to be merciful, that's what it is: to close your heart and your arms. The bodily attitude is explicit: the arms crossed on the chest are combined with the severe face and the pursed mouth.
The God who gives grace
What does it mean to give thanks? Shortly after the story of the Golden Calf (Exodus ch. 33), God responds to Moses' request ("Show me your glory") and he says to him: "I will make all my goodness pass before you and I will proclaim the name of the Lord; I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious and I have compassion on whom I have compassion ”(v.19).
Likewise, a few chapters earlier (22), when God explained to Moses the content of the Law, he said these astonishing words: “If you take a piece of clothing as a pledge, you will return it to its owner before sunset; because it is its only cover. What would he sleep in? If he cries out to me, I will hear him, for I am merciful ”(v. 25-26). In these two passages, God defines himself as "the one who gives grace". He gives grace out of kindness, out of compassion. So for God, compassion and grace go hand in hand. It means that without love there is no possible grace.
Grace without offense
In a second meaning, to be forgiving means to spare someone something: "I'll spare you the details". From these two meanings, we can understand that "to be merciful" means: to free the other, that is to say to open his arms and his heart to him and to spare him his anger or his reproaches. I make him free with regard to myself and I make myself free with regard to him.
The spirit more important than the letter
Finally, to give thanks is to be indulgent, that is to say to look at the other with understanding, patience, tolerance and benevolence; it means remembering that the spirit of the law is more important than the letter of the law: we can be merciful when we are able to see beyond what displeases in the other or what he could do and love it anyway.
So, I wonder if in the end, giving thanks doesn't quite simply mean looking at the other with a smile.
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Article originally published in October 2021