I received a text message this weekend from a friend which read, “Benign.” This is good news. There was so much relief and release packed into that word. It was interesting to think about how that simple message generated so many emotions and engendered gratitude. The more I think about the impact of that word, and words in general, the more I realize that words are only as good as their meaning. Then, I remembered a book I read about “the last best word” in the English language: grace.
Philip Yancey begins his book , What’s So Amazing About Grace?, by calling “grace” the last best word. Here is a short excerpt:
As a writer, I play with words all day long. I toy with them, listen for their overtones, crack them open, and try to stuff my thoughts inside. I’ve found that words tend to spoil over the years, like old meat. Their meaning rots away. Consider the word “charity,” for instance. When King James translators contemplated the highest form of love they settled on the word “charity” to convey it. Nowadays we hear the scornful protest, “I don’t want your charity!”
Perhaps I keep circling back to grace because it is one grand theological word that has not spoiled. I call it “the last best word” because every English usage I can find retains some of the glory of the original. Like a vast aquifer, the word underlies our proud civilization, reminding us that good things come not from our own efforts, rather by the grace of God. Even now, despite our secular drift, taproots still stretch toward grace. Listen to how we use the word.
Many people “say grace” before meals, acknowledging daily bread as a gift from God. We are grateful for someone’s kindness, gratified by good news, congratulated when successful, gracious in hosting friends. When a person’s service pleases us, we leave a gratuity. In each of these uses I hear a pang of childlike delight in the undeserved.
The book goes on to unpack the impact and essence of grace. In short, grace means, “the freely given, unmerited favor and love of God.” The reason that grace is the last best word is because grace is the hope of the world. John 1:17 says, “For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” Grace is the means by which undeserving humanity is set free (redeemed). Ephesians 1:7 says, “In him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace.” Grace is the means by which we are saved. Ephesians 2:8 says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith.” The New Testament goes on and on. Grace freely affords us what we could not do for ourselves. If grace is the last best word, then “pride” is the worst. Don’t let pride cause you to fall from grace.Grace. How sweet the sound.