Amazing Grace, How Sweet the Sound That Saved a Wretch Like Me

I once was lost, but now am found — T'was blind but now I see.

John Newton, writer of “Amazing Grace”
John Newton, writer of “Amazing Grace” (photo: Joseph Collyer/Wikimedia Commons)

Recently, I read an article about the true story behind the song “Amazing Grace.” The comments that accompanied the story weren’t edifying. They just proved the point that we do not understand conversion or forgiveness as a people. Some raged that since he converted 30 years after participating in the slave trade, his lamentations were hollow. Others growled back at those who question whether he should be forgiven.

The issue isn’t whether one should examine or scrutinize history or stories that have taken on a bigger life than perhaps is warranted. The issue becomes charity. If one believes this man wasn’t truly sorry, or not yet fully aware of how grievous his sins were, he needs our prayers. If one believes he truly repented, we ought to rejoice that grace could pierce even this heart and that the good of that grace works on to this day.

To the extent we treat any person — online or in person, living or deceased or by our actions or inactions, past or present — as we would not want ourselves or those we love being treated, we fail at our mission to be followers of Christ. To be disciples, to be friends of Jesus, we must do what Christ tells us. “You are my friends if you do as I command you.” If we would inherit eternal life, we must be about the business of Christ’s mission.

We know who the neighbor is that we must love as ourselves: the one who suffers is the one we must love. The one we know who suffers, we must treat with kindness. I wondered how to explain this concept more deeply, and found a perfect example of “Show, don’t tell.”

Over the weekend, I learned of the murder of a homeless woman in my hometown. In the news segment, the reporter spoke with a woman who considered herself a friend of the deceased. She said that she didn’t know if her friend had any family, but if no one claimed the body, she would take care of her. She would claim her and make arrangements.

I felt struck by the woman’s witness of love for a woman who drifted from place to place, who’d been in and out of jail, who by all accounts lived a hard life, made harder sometimes by her own decisions, who this woman called friend and proved herself to be. This is the extent to which love extends, for love always goes beyond what the world expects. It is always generous, it is always kind, and it is always more than what is practical, prudent or the world deems necessary.

If we’re unwilling to apply the parable of the Good Samaritan to ourselves as the soul who must stop for the other wounded soul, we’d better recognize that each of us is the wounded soul in need of being healed. We’re also supposed to be the one who gets off his donkey, picks up the wounded, brings him to the inn, pours oil over his wounds, and offers to do even more if necessary. We’re never to be the one who rationalizes, justifies and ignores.

So pray and work to love the hearts of others — most especially those who anger, upset, frighten or frustrate. Christ stretched out his arms to the men crucifying him. He gave his feet to be nailed, he let his side be pierced, that we might encounter and begin to fathom what loving others actually means. It means loving beyond what is deserved, beyond merit, beyond cost. Our work will be hard, but not impossible. The grace of God is what would allow us to begin to imitate his gift to us, and what will (if we allow it) save wretches like all of us. Amazing.