I remember my grandmother, seeing someone down on their luck, saying, “There but for the grace of God go I.”
I doubt that she knew that was attributed to John Bradford, a 16th-century English evangelical.
One day, seeing a group of prisoners marching to the gallows, he said, “There but for the grace of God, goes John Bradford.”
The preacher was humbly pointing out that it was neither his virtue nor his accomplishment that separated him from the condemned, but rather the hand of God.
By Nana’s time, it had become more of a comforting comparison. It still acknowledged the thumb of God on the scales, but it made us feel better. (That poor soul over there could have been me!)
I remember thinking about the low man on that totem pole of misery. How awful would things have to be for someone to look around and find no one about whom you could say, “There but for the grace of God go I”?
Those thoughts often return around Thanksgiving. I think of those who don’t appear to be the beneficiaries of that “grace of God.”
What about the man separated from his family by a 10-year sentence? The homeless guy who sleeps in a box and covers his head to keep out the nighttime horrors? The 17-year-old, pregnant and suddenly so terribly alone?
What about the aging woman with mental alertness imprisoned in a rapidly failing body, and the healthy old man whose mind has gone quiet and dark?
What about the grieving widow, the dying father and the maimed soldier.
Where is the “grace of God” in those lives? What thanks can they give?
Perhaps we should look at our thanksgiving math. Most of us have been blessed with good and wonderful things, many of which people in other parts of the world do not share.
We should be aware of these graces, name them, and give thanks for them because they are not all of our doing.
However, our deepest thanks should never be about the countable graces of wealth or health, family or country. We should raise our voices and our cups, not for what God has given, but for the fact that God is.
This is why we are, why we endure the pain, why we revel in the joy, and why we can live forever in the promise of tomorrow.
There, for the grace of God, go all of us!