He had stopped by our home in order to share some of his struggles; he needed a pastor and I was the most geographically accessible. What he told was one part confession, another part philosophy, and a final part conjecture; he closed with a declaration of toxic pessimism, “I can see the handwriting on the wall.” Grief and regret are siblings, if not identical twins; they combined to make it impossible for my acquaintance to see the forest of God’s mercy for the trees of his own iniquity.
There are two biblical concepts with which I identify most naturally and fully. The first is that we are all fatally flawed creatures. The second is that the only thing that distinguishes the believer from the unbeliever is that she or he recognizes and embraces God’s grace as the only remedy for her or his flaws. Without even trying, I am a walking, talking, daily illustration of the first truth. If you watch me closely or listen to me long enough you will readily observe my flawed character. I will exhibit the negative attributes of every biblical character you read about with horror or disdain. Given enough rope to hang myself, I take the fall every time. In fact, there seems to be no bottom to the depths to which I can and do fall; there is no limit to the disappointment I evoke in those who know me and expect more from me. More profoundly, I am adept at disappointing myself.
Fortunately for me, and for you, the second truth is made more clear when you see God’s grace in relief. I’ve overheard myself at times thinking, “Apart from the grace of God, there go I,” when the truth is that I am every bit as guilty as every guilty person who has or ever will live. Scripture shouts my story when it declares “There is nothing good in me” (Romans 7:18) and “My righteousness is as filthy rags in the sight of God” (Isaiah 64:6). But praise God in the same breath it sings my song, “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me.” My struggle is not in finding God’s pardon, it is in accepting God’s forgiveness and moving on. Guilt binds my heart and gags my mouth, but grace explodes the chains.
The man was correct, there is handwriting on the wall. In divine script we can detect what Brennan Manning called the “signature of Jesus,” that grace transforms flawed human beings into trophies of God’s power and love. If God can love and save me, there is hope for anyone.