Can you imagine being kind to the thief who stole your new mp3 player? On two different occasions, my wife has had her purse and its contents stolen. I can recall many of our thoughts in response to the theft: anger, cursing, bitterness. We had a strange feeling of being violated and vulnerable, realizing just how powerless we sometimes are in the face of evil. One thing I am certain we never thought of as a response is grace. We never thought of being gracious toward the perpetrator.
The fact that I never revert to grace in times like these is surely evidence of lingering depravity in my own heart, highlighting yet more areas of my life in which I need to be conformed to Christ. But there is something more. I cannot comprehend the grace of God. I mean, think of Christ. He told his followers to pray for those who persecute them. Pray for the guy scourging you with a whip. In Romans 12, the Apostle Paul instructs us to “Bless those who persecute you. Bless and do not curse.” Pray for and bless those who unjustly attack you? What is going on here? From where does such thinking arise?
Turns out, this thinking is rooted in the nature of God Himself. Chapter 4 of Genesis is remarkable in many ways. Genesis 4 is the story of the first martyrdom and the first instance of persecution. Just as chapter 3 of Genesis is crucial for understanding the nature of sin, so, too, is chapter 4 crucial for understanding the nature of persecution. Perhaps the most unlikely reality of persecution in chapter 4 is God’s response to it. God acts extremely graciously toward Cain. He does not kill Cain on the spot. He offers him the chance to live. To which grace, Cain complains in the face of God that the penalty is unjust. Unjust? Why does God not breathe fire from his nostrils and torch the unrepentant Cain there on the spot? I don’t know. I can’t figure it out. It must be grace. Only grace.