The debate over grace vs. good works is something that has intrigued me since I was a child.  It seemed to be an example of the dysfunction going on in my own home.  Lots of words being spoken about what should be and what is that didn’t match what was actually happening mixed with a dose of denial and a ration of rationalization.  I knew that something wasn’t right about all this, but couldn’t quite put my finger on it.

Both sides of the argument have good points and both can be carried to absurd extremes that can turn dangerous.  Grace, the understanding that all can be forgiven if we trust in a higher power, something that has authority over us and therefore can expunge the consequences of our actions and even our thoughts, is a concept that has helped people recover from difficult, negative experiences.  It has helped people seek and even find redemption in this lifetime.  It gives us hope and therefore allows us to strive to be better.  But in the extreme it can be used like a “Get Out Of Jail Free” card.  Act like you repent, admit your sins, and you will be forgiven.  This plays out in the extreme in various Christian communities and denominations where someone who is a heinous criminal can ask for absolution and with actions of contrition can be forgiven because they are a member of the church and God grants us grace.  This allows the criminal to remain the community with the victim.  Not a very grace filled outcome for them.

Good works help both those who do and those who are done for as long as the good is agreed upon, necessary, and an improvement to the situation.  But “good” is a relative word and good for who and for what reason is the million dollar question.  Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy have illustrated this.  Many people are doing good works to help their neighbors and their communities and thousands outside those communities have stepped in to help as well.  Human nature is essentially good and people, usually, do what’s right and go beyond their personal sphere of influence to help others in need.  But there are a number who don’t and graft has been such a huge part of the politics of these situations, theft and lies and projects posed as good works which were anything but that the communities have become cynical and still struggle to resolve the wreckage left by the storms years afterwards.

So, for myself, I find that the “either/or” of the debate isn’t whether one or the other is better or right, it’s whether or not the words spoken match the actions and if the actions match the intentions.  If what you mean, what you say, and what you do all match up and what you mean is to be responsible for your actions, the consequences of your actions, and your choosing to do good works, then you don’t need grace, because you have achieved it in yourself.  It doesn’t mean you’re perfect or always right or a hero and it doesn’t matter what comes after this.  It means your human and alive and being the best you can be in each and every day.

“If there’s no great glorious end to all this, if nothing we do matters… , then all that matters is what we do. ‘Cause that’s all there is. What we do. Now. Today.” – Angel