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Another Song About Grace
good news for wretches
John Newton, in his hymn Amazing Grace, describes himself as a “wretch.”
For those who are not familiar with his biography, he was a bit of a wretch.
But John Newton had a moment of clarity–or rather, a steady, growing succession of those moments–and his eyes ultimately were opened to the wretchedness of his condition. As a result, he experienced a radical change of heart and life.
There are a million different ways to be wretched. Probably as many as there are people. I’m not acquainted with all of them. But there is a particular kind of wretchedness I am unfortunately familiar with, a gateway drug to wretchedness, if you will. A kind of middle-management wretchedness. This is a thing that the Bible calls “fear of man.”
It’s when you compromise your standards–or perhaps you aren’t even aware of your standards–(or maybe you have none)—because your fear of someone–or your need to please them–or your need for love–or your need for a job or promotion–or simply your need to avoid conflict–looms so large in your life that you are swept up into whatever thing they’re into.
It’s how ordinary people get caught up in extraordinary evil.
It’s an awful tyranny. And the bitter irony is that sometimes when you take the “go along, get along” route, you are left behind anyway. Invisible. Forgotten. Abandoned by that great merciless person/place/thing you tried so hard not to offend.
Imagine you are working for a boss: charismatic, visionary, wildly successful. You adore this boss and you desperately want to be an insider in the company. The insiders are cool and powerful and they have fun meetings and big offices.
But in order to enjoy this insider status you have to do things that feel wrong, deep down in that dim light called your conscience.
Or, perhaps, your need to be part of this group is so strong, and the emotions are so turbulent, and their rhetoric is so powerful, that you are not even aware of that dim light.
And so you repress the light and do what the boss wants you to do, and then one day you realize that your boss really isn’t the good person you thought he was, and that you’re never going to get that big office, but you still have to “go along, get along” because he’s powerful, and he can destroy your career with one word.
And then you wake up one morning and realize “I’ve done wretched things.”
Some contemporary singers stumble over that word “wretch” in Newton’s song. It offends our modern sensibilities; it smacks of low self-esteem.
I get it.
But if you happen to realize, from the inside, that you are a wretch of some kind or another, you have received a great gift:
You have become a candidate for Amazing Grace.
Amazing grace, how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost but now am found
Was blind but now I see.