I was given the privilege of addressing the student body of an institution of higher learning earlier this year. The timing was perfect as I was just launching Awful Grace and this gave me the opportunity to clarify and then articulate what Awful Grace is in a manner 13-18 year olds could hopefully grasp. The text of the address is as follows:
Aeschylus, a Greek Tragedian, a person who writes Greek tragedy, lived circa 500 BC. I would like to share a quote from him that is both powerful and appropriate as to why each of you is here in this institution.
Aeschylus is quoted as saying, “He who learns must suffer. And even in our sleep pain that cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, and in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom to us by the awful grace of God.”
“He who learns must suffer….” says Aeschylus. How does that suffering in order to learn take place? How does wisdom come to us by the awful grace of God? Why is it awful grace?
What is the definition of awful? There are two contrasting definitions which may seem opposite but actually lie on a continuum. It is firstly to be awe-filled, to be filled with awe. It is also when what happens is unpleasant. Awful grace happens when things don’t go our way. When the victory we worked hard for proves elusive. When the results we long for are beyond our reach. All this in spite of our ardent attempts at attainment.
Awful grace is when things don’t go the way we had planned or hoped, but we nonetheless learn the rich lessons it teaches. Awful grace teaches us that oftentimes the wisdom that pain brings is ushered into our lives through setbacks rather than successes. That pain which cannot forget, as Aeschylus points out, brings wisdom. And wisdom shapes character. And character shapes destiny.
Ladies and gentlemen, you are here not merely to obtain a qualification; you are here to be educated.
You are here not merely for academic pursuits; you are here to imbibe lessons for life.
You are here not merely to acquire knowledge; you are here to understand the proper exercise of wisdom.
You are here to excel in sports, not only by winning; you are here to learn the painful lessons of defeat.
Learning takes place when you imbibe the tough lessons of defeat in sports, failure in examinations, despair in being socially ostracised. You build resilience of character when these setbacks do not derail you but refine you.
The key distinctive is when grace is displayed as much in adversity as it is in victory. As much in failure as it is in success. The key distinctive is a young man or woman who learn the lessons pain teaches as readily as when pleasure abounds. The key distinctive is when you grow up to be men and women who care more for wisdom than you do wealth.
May awful grace speak to you of the reality of a God who is not beyond using pain to bring us wisdom. May wisdom shape your character; and may your character provide the firm foundation for your destiny. That is what I wish for all of you.
Grace and peace.