Clare Sestanovich

I sat across from the missionary, pretending to drink a beer. I was new to beer, and it still tasted bad to me, the way it tastes to children. The second-floor boy was there, too, our shoulders touching. The missionary was talking about love again. The most important thing about God, he told us, was that he loved you unconditionally. For some reason, this startled me. It almost angered me. Who, I asked the missionary, taking a fake sip from the beer bottle, would actually want to be loved like that? All-encompassing, all-permitting love sounded indiscriminate. And what were we doing here — at our fancy school, in our charmed lives — if not learning to discriminate, to value things in and for their particulars? 

“All-encompassing” and “all-permitting” are not synonyms. God doesn’t permit everything; God doesn’t approve everything; God’s discriminations are infinitely subtler than ours. He sees all your sins and names them as sins; he sees all your errors and names them as errors. He is ruthless in His exposure of your deceptions of others and your self-deceptions. He doesn’t miss anything, and he doesn’t think your poems are as good as Keats’s, or your essays as good as Joan Didion’s, unless your poems and essays actually are that good. But he loves you anyway, all the time, and all the way — just as much as He loves that person down the street, that dimwit, that asshole, that person you never want to see again. The love of God shines on the excellent and the assholes alike. 

The Good News here is that if you ever stop being excellent and start becoming a dimwit or an asshole or both at once, God will see it, he will know it, he will know it better than you do, he won’t call it anything except what it is … but he will love you just as much as he did when you were excellent. Because Love doesn’t keep score

Robert Farrar Capon:

I said grace cannot prevail until law is dead, until moralizing is out of the game. The precise phrase should be, until our fatal love affair with the law is over — until, finally and for good, our lifelong certainty that someone is keeping score has run out of steam and collapsed. As long as we leave, in our dramatizations of grace, one single hope of a moral reckoning, one possible recourse to salvation by bookkeeping, our freedom-dreading hearts will clutch it to themselves. And even if we leave none at all, we will grub for ethics that are not there rather than face the liberty to which grace calls us. Give us the parable of the Prodigal Son, for example, and we will promptly lose its point by preaching ourselves sermons on Worthy and Unworthy Confession, or on The Sin of the Elder Brother. Give us the Workers in the Vineyard, and we will concoct spurious lessons on The Duty of Contentment or The Moral Aspects of Labor Relations.

Restore to us, Preacher, the comfort of merit and demerit. Prove for us that there is at least something we can do, that we are still, at whatever dim recess of our nature, the masters of our relationships. Tell us, Prophet, that in spite of all our nights of losing, there will yet be one redeeming card of our very own to fill the inside straight we have so long and so earnestly tried to draw to. But do not preach us grace. It will not do to split the pot evenly at four A.M. and break out the Chivas Regal. We insist on being reckoned with. Give us something, anything; but spare us the indignity of this indiscriminate acceptance.