The ‘scandal of grace’

Adam Harbinson
Adam Harbinson

You might remember the 2002 film ‘The Man Who Sued God’ in which Billy Connolly played the role of Steve Myers, an ex-lawyer living out his retirement in Australia.

It was a poke at big business, specifically the insurance industry. Steve’s little fishing boat was destroyed when it was struck by lightning, and of course the insurance company refused to pay out, claiming that it was an ‘act of God’. Steve saw this as a ruse to defraud customers out of their entitlement and so he took God to court to establish if God could do such a thing, or if he would do such a thing, and if so, why? And of course he won.

I was reading the other day how a man in Israel recently did much the same. Here’s an extract of the report from Israel Today: ‘A resident of the northern Israel port city of Haifa this week turned to the courts to seek a restraining order against God. David Shoshan said that he had turned repeatedly to police over the past three years, and on several occasions police were sent to his home to investigate the complaint.

‘According to the suit, God has been treating the man unkindly. The court protocols made note of the fact that the defendant, God, failed to appear at the proceedings, although it did not specify how the court determined the Omnipresent was not in fact there, as opposed to merely exercising the right to remain silent.

‘Presiding Judge Ahsan Canaan denied the request, which he said was ludicrous, asserting that the applicant needed help, not from the court but rather from other sources.’

Maybe we all feel a little like that at times: ‘God isn’t fair!’ we sometimes howl. But do you remember the New Testament parable of the generous landowner in Matthew 20? He hired some men at six in the morning to work in his vineyard for the day, and he promised them a Denarius each; the going rate for a day’s pay for a farm worker. Around 9am he hired a few more and then some more at noon. The men were due to finish work at 6pm, but at five o’clock the landowner found yet more men hanging idly around and they were sent to work as well.

At day’s end they each got one Denarius. That’s not fair, is it? Well, I’m not sure. We tend to judge God according to our standards, what we believe to be right and wrong, but should we be judging God at all?

Back to the generous landowner: ‘Friend,’ he said, ‘I haven’t been unfair. We agreed on the wage, didn’t we? So take it and go. I decided to give to the one who came last the same as you. Can’t I do what I want with my own money? Are you going to be stingy because I am generous?’

Now, here’s a challenge. How would we feel if it emerged that just before the rope tightened around the evil old tyrant Saddam Hussein’s neck, he met with the Master, as did the thief on the cross, and what if he heard the same words; ‘Today you will be with me in Paradise!’ Would we be pleased that he found grace and forgiveness, or would we want him to suffer? It’s what that grand old man of faith, Selwyn Hughes once called the scandal of grace. And I love it. I love it because I need it.