Grace Diagrams

Short story to explain diagrams.

Diagram 1

"Hello, Jenny. I heard you tell him your name. But you should have told him to shut up, that it is none of his business, and that you come to church for answers, not questions."
"That would have been very rude, and in any case, that man was just being welcoming. It's my first time here."
"I overheard the questions he was asking you, what's your name, where do you live, how long have you lived there, what's your job, where do you work... He, and some of the others, do this to anyone who comes to church for the first time. By the way, I'm Mark."
"Well, Mark, I must admit that I was wondering how personal the next question was going to be, until you came up to us, saying hello, which stopped him, and then he left us."
"I think they are trained to keep a conversation going for as long as possible, by inventing the next question, leading from your previous answer, but they never say anything about themselves. Once, I overheard someone else, who got as far as asking, "How old were you when your father was killed ?" How personal is that ?"
"Perhaps I should thank you for rescuing me. But why do they want to know ? Is it to show how friendly the people at this church are, hoping that I will come again ?"
"No, it isn't being friendly at all. All they are doing is checking that they are higher than you, up the social scale. They are such hypocrites."
"But," says Jenny, "the teacher who made the presentation about the Grace Diagrams seemed genuine enough. It was very interesting, and I made some notes, look."
"Very good, so perhaps you can explain these diagrams to me. Yes, the teacher seems okay, but he lost me soon after the start."
They sit down, and Jenny explains to Mark, "This horizontal line is the reference, call it zero percent, and this one up here, is the one hundred percent level. You know what Grace is, don't you ?"
"Grace is the unmerited favour of God, unmerited because there is nothing we can do to earn it. But I still don't really understand what it means."
"Let's come back to that later. Do you remember what he said the top, hundred percent line, represents ?"
"Yes, salvation. Being saved from the consequences of sin, and living with God in His Heaven. That is more understandable. And I can follow the vertical line down from zero percent, to minus thirty percent, to represent sin, taking someone even farther away from God."
"Good," says Jenny. "Now, this other vertical line, represents good works, the unselfish things we do for other people, the Law of Christ. [1]. In this example, its length of seventy percent, going from the minus thirty percent for sin, towards the salvation line, takes it to plus forty percent."
"So," says Mark, "God offers this person His grace, to make up the missing sixty percent, to save this person, and get this person to Heaven."
"Exactly. Of course, the numbers are just examples to demonstrate the principle. The teacher said that this was the case for a righteous person. I'm glad I copied the diagram, because then he rubbed out bits to show the case for what he called, the sinner. So I made this new diagram, where now the line for good works is only twenty percent, taking it to the minus ten percent level."
"So, now, more Grace is needed, one hundred and ten percent, instead of sixty percent. I get it now," says Mark, excitedly.
"That's right, and that's why Saint Paul wrote, talking about God, "My grace is sufficient for thee," [2], meaning that God always has enough, whether we are righteous, or sinful, because He wants us back with Him in Heaven. However, Grace is not given, but only offered, and we have to accept it, which means acknowledging that God is supreme."
"Which is what an atheist would never do, and so that is why atheists never want to be with God in Heaven. Look, Jenny, they want to close the church now, so let's arrange to meet again somewhere."

A few days later Mark's phone wakes him up. "Mark, are you okay ?" asks Jenny, sounding worried. "We arranged to meet yesterday, but you didn't turn up. I waited ..."
"I'm sorry, Jenny. Those diagrams bother me. They show that both the righteous person and the sinner, as they are called, can accept God's grace and get to Heaven. So what is the advantage of living a virtuous life ?"
"That is a very good question, and Saint Paul has the answer to that. [3]. Where do you live ? Perhaps I can visit you. The diagrams make it clearer than trying to explain over the telephone."
Mark gives Jenny his address, but says, "Come after 8 pm."

Jenny visits. "Hi, Mark. Well, you do have a nice place here, rather too nice for a man on his own," and she laughs, "I think that you must have a woman living with you here."
"I share it with my sister, Aralette."
"Aralette ?"
"Yes. Our mother is half French. Aralette is a nurse, but she is not here now, because she works nights. But don't tell anyone at church."
"Why not ?"
"Because the church leaders will automatically assume that I am, "living in sin", with her. They would enjoy that because, if I am committing the long "f" word, [4], that makes them, by contrast, appear so much holier. Also they will then show how holy they are, by kicking me out."
"Kicking you out ?"
"Yes, as happened about a year ago, when a young woman could no longer hide the fact that she would soon be an unmarried mother, they then did "dis" something to her."
"Disfellowshipped ?"
"That's the word, and told her to find another church, and this at a time in her life when she needed Christian support more than ever. And worse, the church leaders then told everyone else to have nothing to do with her, as it would affect the "good name" of the church. I call it the, "Church of the Ninety and Nine", [5], with their, "I'm alright, Jesus", attitude."
Jenny is about to ask Mark why, if this church is so horrible, does he still go there, when she realises what the reason must be. She can't remember ever seeing Mark with a woman, so she waits, and then says, "Oh dear. I think you must have once had a friend at church, but where is she now ?"
"She's at university, a hundred miles away, but she won't even pick up the phone when I ring her."
Jenny remembers discovering how easy it is for someone to fall in love when they move far from home, and away from all their friends, and wonders if Mark also realises this. She decides that it is not the right time to discuss Grace Diagrams, and leaves.

Diagram 2

On Sunday Mark and Jenny meet at church, and both make notes during the teacher's presentation, about the second set of Grace Diagrams. This time, in the example for the righteous person, there is a new downward line, to minus forty percent, for temptation. This shows that the thirty percent for sin is less than the temptation, showing that some temptation has been resisted. Jenny whispers to Mark, "Saint Paul wrote that God will never allow us to be tempted more than we can resist." [6].
The teacher draws an upward line for faith, from the minus thirty percent level, to plus seventy percent, which takes it above the point reached by works, and explains, "This shows that even the righteous person's works are less than their faith." [7]. Jenny can see that Mark looks puzzled, and guesses that he is still bothered by the reason for living a virtuous life. They leave church separately, but Jenny thinks that she will wait for a few days before visiting Mark again.

When Jenny arrives outside Mark's flat, she is a little early, and hears a man and a woman arguing. She recognises Mark's voice. She realises that this is not a good time to visit, and decides to leave. As she is walking away, a woman suddenly rushes past her. Jenny notices the woman's fair hair, and thinks, "That must be Aralette. Their argument must have made her late for work, and that's why she is in such a hurry. It is bad for a brother and sister to argue. I hope they will still want to live in the same flat. If he moves out, I may not know where he has gone."

Diagram 3

Next Sunday at church, Jenny looks for Mark, but she cannot find him, but she can see Aralette. Jenny sees several young men talking to Aralette and thinks, "She is quite attractive, slim, with fair hair, always laughing, and wearing a party dress, almost like the film star Marilyn Munroe. I can see why the church leaders would assume that something was going on between her and Mark."
The teacher describes the third set of Grace Diagrams, and Jenny makes notes. The teacher explains that, in today's example, the righteous person only needed sixty percent of the grace available, and so the remaining forty percent can be used for rewards, or crowns, in Heaven. [8]. However, the sinner needed one hundred and ten percent grace, and, although the sinner accepts all this grace, and gets to Heaven, there is nothing left over for any rewards or crowns. Jenny is very pleased with this, and thinks, "This is just the answer I need, for Mark's question. But I wonder why he is not church today."

"Mark," Jenny phones excitedly, "You should have been at church today. The teacher extended the Grace Diagrams, which now show the answer to your question, showing the advantage of living a virtuous life. Please can I come and show you ?"
"Okay, if you must. I don't mind," says Mark, sounding rather fed up.

When Jenny arrives she says, "I thought you would be pleased to know the advantage of living a virtuous life, but you don't look as if you care."
"I don't."
"What's wrong ?"
"She came here, suddenly turning up from university, after all my unanswered phone calls, but do you know why ? She wanted to spend the night here, sleeping with me. I didn't think she was that sort of woman. I thought she was a Christian. It just shows how wrong you can be with people. Or maybe being away at university has changed her."
"But you didn't," asks Jenny, cautiously, "did you ?"
"No. What she wanted to do made me angry. I told her, "No, leave that for your wedding night." Then she shouted at me, and hurried out. Perhaps I should have agreed, I don't know."
"So that's why you weren't at church ? Did you pray to God ?"
"God ? Ha. What God ? There is no God. God is dead, as Nietzsche said. We just exist from birth to death, and if by some remote chance there actually is a God, He is just a puppet master, pulling the strings of our lives, for His own amusement, as Shakespeare said. [9].
"Perhaps someone at church can help you."
"Church ? Religion, the opiate of the masses ? [10]. Those high and mighty people at church would never understand. Have you ever lost someone you loved ?"
"Yes, actually, I have. And I know what it is like, knowing that you have lost them, when there is no point in dreaming of a future with them anymore, and yet you still cannot get them out of your head. The only cure seems to be meeting someone new, someone that you can actually dream of having a future with."
"Jenny, sorry to bore you with my miserable love life. You came here because you said you have the Grace Diagrams, the ones showing the advantage of living a virtuous life. Can I see them ?"
Jenny shows Mark her notes. "Oh, so after all, there is an advantage, in Heaven, for being good on Earth." After a while Mark says, "Perhaps it is just as well that I resisted her advances."

Diagram 4

On Sunday Jenny looks for Mark at church, but again she cannot see him. The teacher explains that this is the last set of Grace Diagrams, so Jenny makes sure she takes notes. The teacher adds a new upward line from the zero percent, reference level, for the challenges of life, which joins to the existing downward lines for temptation and sin. The teacher explains that challenges come to all of us in life, perhaps at birth if we are born disabled or in poverty, or later due to illness, accident or other things that are not our own fault. However, it does not include the results of stupid mistakes we make ourselves, like addiction or greed. In this example the other lines need to be slightly different lengths from the previous week's diagrams, to show a seventy percent challenge, resulting in sixty percent grace used, and forty percent grace left over, for rewards, or crowns, in Heaven.
The teacher then rubs out the challenges line and redraws it at forty percent, perhaps less because someone was brought up in a good, prosperous Christian home, to show that now, with fewer challenges, only ten percent grace is left over for rewards, or crowns, in Heaven.
Someone asks, "Who, or what, is responsible for deciding whether people will have big or small challenges in life ?" Someone else asks, "Is it random chance, predestination, God, Satan or who, and how can this be fair ?" And another asks, "Since there is only one God, and we are all made in His likeness, [11], why are we all born different, big, small, black, white, even male or female ?"
The teacher is silent, and Jenny thinks, "You don't know, do you ? As for the challenges, the atheist would probably say it is random chance, to show that there is no God. If it is God, then this makes Him changeable and unpredictable, which is hardly how loving parents deal fairly with all their children. If it is Satan, as with Job, then this means that God has left Satan in control." Jenny is disappointed that the teacher has no answer for any of this. Jenny then thinks of the atheist's favourite question, "Why does God allow inequality, injustice and suffering ?" or, "Why does this loving, Christian God, allow all the war, disease, crime, exploitation, and so on, in the world which He created ?" She guesses that, although the question is short, the answer is not.
At the end of the service, there is much excitement, as someone announces their engagement, and Jenny sees Aralette waving a big ring on her finger, as she turns round quickly, making her fair hair fly outwards. But there is still no sign of Mark.

Jenny visits Mark. "That's very good news, about your sister."
"What's that ?"
"Why, her engagement of course, although I was surprised that you were not at church for the announcement."
"What do you mean ? Aralette isn't getting married, nor was she at church. I was helping her mend her bike, for cycling to work, now that the evenings are getting lighter."
Jenny is quiet, thinking, "Oh, have I made a big mistake about Mark's sister, Aralette ?" and then she asks, "Do you have a picture of Aralette, that you can show me ?"
Mark looks through some photos, and shows one of him and Aralette together, and Jenny can see that Aralette, the real Aralette, Mark's sister, has dark hair, like his. One photo falls to the floor, and Jenny picks it up, recognizing it as the woman at church with fair hair, who has just become engaged, and also as the woman that rushed past her after the argument she overheard.
"Oh, Mark, I've got things terribly wrong. One evening I came to your flat, and I overheard you arguing with a woman, who I assumed was you sister, Aralette, so I thought it best to leave. As I was going, this fair haired woman rushed past me, which made me think that she must be Aralette, hurrying to get to work on time. I'm so glad that I am wrong. That must have been the argument you told me about."
Jenny cannot help being curious about the fair haired woman, who Mark was, or perhaps still is, in love with. "Did she said why she suddenly changed her mind about you ?"
"No, she just insisted that we must sleep together, even after I had said that I wouldn't, and then she rushed out."
"Have you thought that she might be desperate for something, other than just pleasure ?"
"What do you mean ?"
"Suppose she had discovered that she was expecting a baby, and she wanted to seduce you, to make you marry her, for her baby to be legitimate."
"Oh, I never thought of that," says Mark, pausimg, "If so, she must have been more successful with someone else, the man she is now engaged to. Do you think I had a lucky escape ?"

Jenny often visits Mark, and eventually she meets his sister, Aralette. They all get on well, except that, because of working nights, Aralette is usually to tired to go to church on a Sunday morning. Jenny tells Mark that she now has a new question, the one raised after the presentation of the final Grace Diagram. "The question is, who decides whether people will have big or small challenges in life ? Is it random chance, predestination, God, Satan or who, and how can this be fair ?"
Mark says, "It cannot be random chance, or that shows that God does not exist. It cannot be God, or this would make Him changeable and unpredictable, which is hardly how loving parents deal fairly with their children. It cannot be Satan, as with Job, or this means that God has left Satan in control. So who ?"
"Then there is only one other person left," says Jenny slowly, "Ourselves."
"Ourselves ? You mean that we make the choice ?" asks Mark. "Really ? But how, and when ?"
"I know it is difficult to imagine, but the Bible suggests that each of us had some sort of existence before we were born. [12]. Let us call it the Life Before, and it started before the time of Adam and Eve. Suppose that God, to be fair, initially created us all the same, in His likeness. [11]. If God is a spirit, then in the Life Before, we would have been created spirits, without needing any physical existence. We know from the War in Heaven, [13], that whatever the existance there was like, we were all different individuals, we could somehow communicate with each other and we could make choices, for example to follow Satan and become his demons. However, as we communicated with each other, we would ask questions, and make suggestions, and those who liked a particular idea would group together. So, in the Life Before, we all started the same, but ended up all being different."
"Do you think we knew what would happen to us when we were born, after leaving the Life Before ?"
"Yes," says Jenny. "We must have known that after the Life Before, we would be born, and that we would face challenges in life, and that how we overcame the challenges would determine our reward in Heaven. Of course, when we are born, our brain cells are blank, and so we have no memory of the Life Before."
"How then, do you explain déjà vu, when you meet someone for the first time, and you feel that you have known each other for ages ? You go back through your work, where you have lived, your school and people you have known, but you still cannot find any connection."
"Um. That's a good point, and I know what you mean. Maybe somehow we do keep some special memories, perhaps someone who was our really close friend in the Life Before."
Mark seems pleased with this idea, and says, "Although our minds are blank at birth, déjà vu could be like a curtain coming down on all our experiences in the Life Before, but we can see a little bit of light under the curtain."
Jenny shrugs her shoulders, and continues, "Before leaving the Life Before, we must have been given our choice of how we would be born, big, small, black, white, even male or female, as well as our choice of the level of challenges that we would face in life, whether they would be big challenges or small ones. We could not have chosen our challenges in detail, as we would not have known what life would be like. However, because we were all different, some would be confident enough to choose greater challenges, perhaps to be born handicapped to a drug dealing lone parent, in one of the world’s poorest shanty towns, so that they can overcome more, and receive a greater reward in Heaven. But then, they risk that the difficulties might be too great, and then they would lose everything. Others would be fearful of not overcoming the challenges of life, and so choose to have an easy life, perhaps being born healthy, into a good, prosperous, Christian family, and with smaller challenges to overcome."
"Well," says Mark. "If that is so, it would be un-Christian, and entirely tactless, to explain this to someone who is suffering greatly, telling them that it is a result of their own choice, before they were born."
"Indeed," says Jenny, "and if we follow the example of Jesus Christ at all, we would see that helping someone with their needs, or their suffering, would be an answer to a prayer for opportunities to serve the Lord, by being useful to other people."
"Like the Good Samaritan, finding someone in trouble, and helping them on their way again," says Mark, smiling at Jenny.

References (KJV) and notes.
1. Gal 6:2
2. 2 Cor 12:9
3. Rom 6:1
4. Rom 1:29
5. Luke 15:4
6. 1 Cor 10:13
7. James 2:17
8. Matt 5:12
9. "All the world's a stage, a stage where every man must play a part, and mine a sad one", Antonio, Merchant of Venice, Act 1 Scene 1
10. Karl Marx
11. Gen 1:27
12. Jer 1:5, Eph 1:4-5, 2 Tim 1:9
13. Rev 14:4, 9

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Started 2021 Feb 21, 3822 words, revision 20240529.

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