This is how the humble people view the world: Â “With all these wonderful people, I spend every day in happiness.” Because they are acutely aware of their own imperfection, they easily appreciate the effort of others who also have to struggle (and sometimes fail) to do the right thing. The resulting gratitude is typical of the people who practice self-reflection. In the middle of this world they live in the Realm of the Good, a paradise of the heart.
I am not a theologian, luckily. Â And so I will happily skip the many detailed debates within Christianity about the nature of grace. Â There is evidently a lot of confusion about this, much to my surprise. Instead, I will seek to extend the concept so that it can be seen as immediately useful by all except the extreme materialist.
(There are different degrees of materialism, of course. The common moderate materialist will act and talk as if spirit exists, or at least the domains in which spirit is manifest, such as truth & beauty & virtue. Â However, if asked outright, he will claim that spirit is a secondary reality, which emanates from matter and cannot exist independently from matter. Â An extreme materialist, on the other hand, will regard spirit as pure illusion, the brain’s mistaken attempts to understand its own workings. Â To such a person, love is simply the genes attempt to perpetuate themselves, and grace is as real as luck, that is to say, pure fantasy.)
Now, if we accept – even if just for the sake of living within civilization – that there is spiritual dimension to life, whatever its origin… Then we can imagine this dimension as vertical, as do pretty much all the world’s religions, who agree that not only is it vertical, but higher is better. Obviously the modern reader will not take this literally, but rather as a metaphor. Â In this context, we can think of grace as a force that lifts us up. Â A kind of counter-gravity from above, or a rising wind, like a vertical jet stream which can immensely help us if we place ourselves in the right position.
The Christian Bible says: “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” (James 4:6.) The interesting part is that this does not place any other restrictions on the grace. Â It does not specify, for instance, that God gives grace to the humble Christian or even to the humble religious person. Â The humility itself seems to be sufficient. Â If this is the case, then the Christian concept of grace merges with the Buddhist doctrine of salvation through self-reflection. Â The purpose of self-reflection is exactly humility in practice: Â To find our imperfections and see them as a serious problem rather than just comparing ourselves with someone who seem to behave worse than us. So even though the Buddhist does not (necessarily) believe in a god, he is still seeking the same grace in the same place where it is found by the Christian, namely in humility.
Now, I am not saying that all (or even two) religions are equal, or that it does not matter whether you are religious or not. It is not that simple, probably. Â But it would seem that grace is a more universal concept than you would think from Christian theology.
I guess what I am saying is that regardless of all other things, having a realistic view of your own shortcomings and taking responsibility will make you a better person. Whether it will give you eternal happiness, I can’t say. Â But it is certainly worth a try if only for the happiness you get down here. Â When you have tried that for a while, you may want to consider your further course.