By Jim Tune
In his song “Anthem,” Leonard Cohen writes that everything has a crack. He then adds, “That’s how the light gets in.”
Could Philip Yancey have been listening to Cohen as he reflected on the amazing nature of grace? Yancey writes: “Imperfection is the prerequisite for grace. Light only gets in through the cracks.”
It’s not easy to acknowledge one’s imperfections. Wherever the line is drawn between right and wrong, between gentle or cruel, between clean or dirty, all too often I find myself crossing over to the wrong side of the line, despite all my efforts to “be good.” This is the paradox that even the great apostle Paul grappled with: “I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway” (Romans 7:19, New Living Translation).
I used to work hard to conceal my imperfections, to keep my secrets in the dark. There is a reputation to protect, an image to be managed. Still, I am learning to accept that the church is filled with sinners. One of those sinners is called pastor.
This is where grace comes in. Paul Tillich writes:
Grace . . . strikes us when we walk through the dark valley of a meaningless and empty life. . . . It strikes us when, year after year, the longed-for perfection of life does not appear, when the old compulsions reign within us as they have for decades, when despair destroys all joy and courage. Sometimes at that moment a wave of light breaks into our darkness, and it is as though a voice were saying: “You are accepted. You are accepted, accepted by that which is greater than you. . . . Do not seek for anything; do not perform anything; do not intend anything. Simply accept the fact that you are accepted!”
The spirit of religion rejects this. Churches can become cozy affinity groups where members pretend to have it all together instead of admitting that they are, in fact, what Francis Spufford calls “a league of the guilty.”
Many Christians have bought into a soul-chilling myth: once converted, fully converted. That is, once I accept Jesus as Lord, a near sinless future beckons. Discipleship will be an untarnished victory march toward the finish line as I walk with unbroken strides up a stairway toward holiness.
This approach to the Christian life is absurd. It reminds me of the story of the enthusiastic apprentice who had just received his plumber’s license. On a visit to Niagara Falls, he stared intently at the thunderous cascade of rushing water and then said, “I think I can fix this!”
Thomas Merton grasped a more realistic picture of the grace experience when he said, “A saint is not someone who is good but who experiences the goodness of God.” All that is ours is not ours by right, but by the sheer bounty of a gracious God. Forget your perfect offering.
The believer who is truly filled with light is the person who has gazed into the yawning darkness of their imperfections. There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.