Surprise is a perfect word for Grace. The dictionary says surprise is “an unexpected or astonishing event, fact or thing.” Grace is both those things. It is completely unexpected because we are all expecting something else from God. You see, we know that God is a perfectionist which pretty much leaves us out of any hope of pleasing Him. Our only chance is that God might, after all is said and done, grade on the curve. The curve is when our grades are not determined by an external standard, but by how everyone else did. If everyone else did poorly on a test and yet we did less poorly than most others, we would get a high grade and pass. It’s totally a grade by comparison. It’s our only chance against a very high standard, and when it comes to God, you surely can’t get much higher.
Even though we would all most likely agree intellectually that God does not grade on the curve, we nevertheless live as if He did. We are constantly comparing our righteousness to someone else’s, especially someone we think is pretty high up on at least the human scale of righteousness. Notice how overjoyed we are when someone like that blows it big time. How it secretly makes us actually feel good inside, liked they are bringing down the curve. We actually might have a chance after all. Take the driving test, for instance. In California you can have 7 wrong answers and still pass. So who cares if you missed 2 or you missed 7, you get in either way. It’s amazing how many people actually count on God being like this.
Grace is quite simply getting your paper back, knowing you botched it big time, and yet there it is writ across the top, in bold red pencil, “100%.” What? Surprise! It’s God’s Grace! And that’s not the curve; you really did get a hundred percent. That’s because it’s the work of God’s Son, Jesus Christ, that God sees when He goes over your papers. There it is, over and over again: “100%.”
And Grace is also astonishing, because being accepted by God, when we know our true nature, is an astonishing event. Impossible. How could this be? We know ourselves. We know we don’t stand a chance. In God’s presence it’s suicide to even try. Yet here we are, righteous in God’s eyes, because, once again, He’s looking at us and seeing Christ. So we walk around with our mouths sort of half open all the time — not quite believing what we got.
Or as Robert Farrar Capon tells it: “[The gospel] is not a question to be answered or a puzzle to be solved. It is a paradox to be relished, a wild, outrageous secret to be astonished at and then snitched to the world as the greatest joke ever told . . . The mystery of Christ is a festival of weakness and foolishness on the part of God . . . something that makes no more sense that the square root of mines one — something that is deaf to our cries for intelligible explanations but that works when it is put into the equation of the world — something that can only be marveled at because it is such preposterously Good News. The Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, has one Word for us: God has upped and done the damnedest thing. Or, to get the direction and adjectives right, God has downed and done the blessedest thing we could ever not have thought of.”
So cover your eyes, and stand before the Holy Throne of Almighty God, and when He calls your name, and you get ready to uncover yourself in all those despicable tattered rags of unrighteousness you’ve been carrying around in that body of death, you slowly uncover your eyes, and, lo and behold . . . Surprise! Welcome to the arms of God!