I read this quote in a secular book*: “Let us look a little more closely at the idea that rewards should be bestowed on those who merit them. For many people, the moralistic corollary to this assumption that bad things should be bestowed on, or good things withheld from, those who are undeserving. Many of us have watched people become uneasy, if not positively furious, when they believe some offense – including one committed by a child – has not been punished severely enough.”

A sense of justice is ingrained in human nature and while this is a good thing it makes it difficult to accept grace. We rightly feel good behaviour should be rewarded and bad behaviour punished. Grace disrupts our sense of justice.

When it comes to God we underestimate the seriousness of our bad behaviour and think that we need only a little grace, especially when we think we balance out our bad behaviour with our good behaviour. It is only when we stop comparing ourselves with others and compare ourselves with God’s holiness that we have any idea of the enormous gap between our righteousness and God’s. So then the problem is not that God won’t freely give us as much grace as we need but rather that so many of us don’t believe we need that much grace. I sometimes wonder if that’s why God allows some people to fall into sin, it is the only way they will ever come to understand the depths of God’s grace.

*Punished by rewards : the trouble with gold stars, incentive plans, A’s, praise and other bribes by Alfie Kohn (Houghton Mifflin, 1999) pg. 20