An Atheist Can Understand: Grace

Defining Grace ala Wiktionary

After commenting on a friend’s wall post on Facebook where he asked asking whether this Gospel Coalition post or the topic of grace struck a chord in my experience I was left to ponder the word “grace” and explore what meaning it can reflect on an eternally stagnate source of morality and being.

The over all meaning of grace seems to be a perception of an unexpected redemption of dignity by some measure.  Someone stepping on a skate only to roll along and keep walking.  A leader granting amnesty.  An ex-friend’s concern for your well-being.  Doubly graceful is a school bully nearly slipping on a kid’s skateboard only to take it in stride handing the skateboard back without issue.

Anyone who knows anything about Christianity knows that Jesus’ version of God forgives any who approaches and repents in earnest regardless of previous transgression.  Propping up the perception of grace here is the concept that you, me, and rest of humanity doesn’t deserve a fraction of the clemency being offered by this deal.  Quite the opposite, God is fully justified to judge every one of us to eternal pain and/or oblivion.  Deserving absolute loss but being granted fully dignity; if grace has an ideal this would be it.  Wouldn’t it?

What kept coming to mind while writing the previous paragraph was a scene in the movie Gladiator.  After Commodus (the bad guy) discovers the plot to overthrow the city from his sister’s son he has this dialogue with her:

Commodus: [to Falco (his second)] Lucius (the son) will stay with me now. And if his mother so much as looks at me in a manner that displeases me, he will die. If she decides to be noble and takes her own life, he will die.
[to Lucilla (his sister/Lucius’ mother)]
Commodus: And as for you, you will love me as I loved you. You will provide me with an heir of pure blood, so that Commodus and his progeny will rule for a thousand years. Am I not merciful?
[Lucilla turns her head]
Commodus: AM I NOT MERCIFUL?!

Is it a fair comparison?  I think this is as fair a comparison as any.  Normally I try to keep a welcoming table for any detractors, but I don’t see any other way to roll this topic out.  How graceful would the parable of the prodigal son sound if the father had a torture room awaiting the son if he didn’t worship the father upon return.  Replace the son with everyone, the father with God, and the return with all death ever.  Grace?  That rings more like extortion and self-deprecation in my ears.  What am I missing here Christians?