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Ask the Clergy: What is by 'grace of God'?

'Grace of God," is a term that is bandied around, but not well understood. What does "There but by the grace of God go I" actually mean? Is it just something you utter when you witness a car crash or see a homeless person? Our clergy offer clarity.

Pastor Jerome Enderle, Grace of God Lutheran Church, Dix Hills:

It is the heart and core of the message of our church. Grace is God's undeserved love for sinners. If not for God's undeserved love, what would I do? How could I live? That grace fashions my life. He loved me enough to send his Son to die for me. Grace of God is whatever we receive that isn't what we've earned. I don't really think people understand when they say "There but by the grace of God . . ., " because everything we have is by the grace of God.

God couldn't simply overlook sin; he had to punish sin. That's where his grace comes in. We believe that sinners are saved by grace alone. That grace, that undeserved love, led God to provide sinners with everything they need for forgiveness and to enter heaven.

God gave us "grace credits" because of everything Jesus did for us sinners. "For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you, through his poverty, might become rich" (2 Corinthians 8:9).

We are rich because of the Grace of God.

The Rev. Father Dariusz Koszyk, pastor, Church of Our Lady of the Assumption, Copiague:

The Church explains grace as a gift freely given by God. Its primary meaning refers to a supernatural gift proceeding from the benevolence of God that gives spiritual life to man. This life is actually a sharing in divine life itself and is eternal. With his powers and capabilities, man cannot earn or lay any claim to grace. But through the love and graciousness of God, he receives it.

While we usually speak of grace as the life of the soul that leads to eternal happiness, it can have a variety of other meanings. In a secondary sense, grace includes the blessings and gifts of God that are available to all people in all places at all times. However, the bestowal of such gifts cannot be predicted and is beyond human calculation. A more in-depth discussion of grace can be found in the various letters of the New Testament. Attention might be given first to Romans Chapter 5 and 1 Corinthians Chapter 12.

Rabbi Moses A. Birnbaum, Plainview, past president of the Long Island Board of Rabbis; rabbi of The Jewish Center of Kew Gardens Hills, Flushing:

In Jewish thinking, particularly in Jewish mysticism, we think of the Grace of God more in the comparable term in Hebrew, "Khessed," sometimes spelled "Chessed," which translates to love and kindness.

What it means is that one of the aspects of God's nature is love and kindness. The world was created with khessed. Everything he created he saw that it was good, and he wanted to do good. He loved to do kindness.

We say that the Torah begins with an act of khessed and ends with an act of khessed. It begins when God finds Adam and Eve naked and clothes them. It ends with an act of khessed, when he buries Moses. To attend to the burial of another is the ultimate act of khessed because the dead cannot repay the kindness.

From the Talmud, we see a translation of "There but by the Grace of God . . ." as divine providence. I personally have a problem with divine providence and a God who would let 1.5 million children die in the Holocaust, allow natural disasters like a drought or the horrible things that are happening in Syria.

I believe that "Grace of God" is the strength and direction that we get from God.

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