Christians understand God’s grace as a gift that is undeserved—an unsolicited gift that springs from his bountiful love. It is no doubt comforting to think that we live in a universe presided over by a benevolent and loving god—a god whose love is akin to that of a parent, a love that can be relied on when all else fails, a love that need not be earned—in short, unconditional love. Despite its unquestioning appeal, the idea has a dark side, to which the devout are oblivious. In light of the role that God’s grace has played in President Barack Obama’s understanding of the events surrounding the massacre in a South Carolina church in June 2015, the concept deserves careful examination.
Christians are encouraged to imitate their god in their private as well as their public lives. In private life, divine grace is the inspiration behind the Christian conception of love in marriage. In the Christian view, love in marriage should imitate the love of God—unconditional, unearned, and undeserved. Far from being something we “fall” into, love is a resolute decision, a pledge to love unconditionally. So understood, marriage is not a juridical contract between two people. A contract becomes null and void when one of the parties fails to live up to the agreement.
This is not the case in the Christian conception of marriage, because marriage is not an agreement between two people but between each of them and God. Consequently, there is never a reason to default on the pledge regardless of the conduct of the spouse. This view of love is no doubt heroic—and I think that it is definitely worth trying, because unconditional love may well have a cathartic effect. But it also has a dark side, because it is unreasonable to keep trying when no success is achieved.