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28.04.2017

The Helping Hand of Grace | Connecting with Culture

It’s annual World Snooker Championship time again. Years ago I used to play in two types of snooker league: the open league and the handicap league. In the open league both players start the game on zero, giving the best players the better chance of winning.

However, in the handicap league, based on a points system conditioned by past results, better players give inferior players a head start in order to narrow the gulf in ability and make matches more evenly contested.

The handicap league works because even though the points are differentiated at the start of play, both players are still incentivised to try hard to play to the best of their ability. But this also means that someone can play much better than his opponent yet still lose the match because of his opponent’s handicap.

This reminded me of one of my beefs with Christianity when I first explored the faith. Why can’t the lovely non-Christian Mrs Jones get to heaven, and yet the not-so-kind and lovely Christian Mr Smith can?

Years later I came to see that the situation was a little like the handicap snooker matches. Mrs Jones may have been the better snooker player (kinder and lovelier) but Mr Smith had the better handicap (God’s grace) and wins the victory – not because he’s relying on his own qualities, but because he’s relying on God’s gift of salvation and God’s help in becoming more Christ-like.

Even if on his own qualities he starts behind Mrs Jones, it’s the handicap points of God’s grace, not his own abilities, that will help him win the prize of salvation.

In snooker the worse you are as a player the higher your handicap points will be, which reminds me of what Paul says in Romans 5:20 that ‘where sin increased, grace increased all the more’. Amazingly, the further away our faults and failings distance us from God, the more his grace is at hand to bring us back, as the father’s welcome of his prodigal son showed.

On top of that, from a Christian perspective, even those kind and lovely qualities are not really Mrs Jones’s as much as they are God’s gifts to her. They are in her only because they are in God first, because all good gifts are from above, not from ourselves. As Ephesians 2:8 makes clear, the grace that saves is a gift from God.

James Knight

James is a Norwich-based local government officer, and writes a regular blog called The Philosophical Muser. He also contributes a monthly column for the Christian website Network Norfolk.

Comments

  1. Nice analogy. Feels like I’ve a massive handicap. So grateful God has laid down the rules for the game of life. Hallelujah! I’m a winner too, James! God bless.

    By Christine - 28th April 2017
  2. I think you need to look at the parable of the sheep and goats

    By Rosemary - 28th April 2017
  3. This is a great analogy: permission to steal (/adapt) for an evangelistic football group’s halftime talk?

    By Peter - 28th April 2017
  4. Thank you! This is really helpful

    By Sabine - 29th April 2017
  5. I’m slightly worried about this as a statement of the Gospel. The Bible teaches that neither Mrs Jones nor Mr Smith has anything to play with. Mrs Jones’ apparent niceness is irrelevant, because at heart we are all self-serving and alienated from God.

    By Paul - 29th April 2017
  6. Thanks James. Great reflection

    By John W - 29th April 2017
  7. We can not judge who is going to heaven by snooker standards or anynother earthly standaards. Thank gof she decides and loves us and cares for us.

    By mary quenby - 1st May 2017
  8. The problem with this analogy is that it assumes the person with the handicap “wins” salvation. However, in Snooker, you still have to try in order to win. You don’t win BECAUSE you have the handicap. You’re just no further away from winning than someone who is more experienced/talented.

    So in terms of this analogy, either:
    – Mr Smith still needs to “beat” Mrs Jones in order to receive salvation, by trying and working hard, or
    – Both Mr Smith and Mrs Jones receive salvation, despite the fact that Mr Smith is not as “good” because he has the handicap of God.

    After studying the bible for years, I still can’t say for certain who will see what after death. However, we should be very careful about making flat statements like the one above with such simple analogies. After all, God is anything but simple.

    By Anon - 4th May 2017
  9. Thank you Christine, Peter, Sabine and John W – glad it was useful to you.

    Thanks for the other feedback too. Some comments:

    Paul >> I’m slightly worried about this as a statement of the Gospel. The Bible teaches that neither Mrs Jones nor Mr Smith has anything to play with. Mrs Jones’ apparent niceness is irrelevant, because at heart we are all self-serving and alienated from God.<> We can not judge who is going to heaven by snooker standards or any other earthly standards. Thank god she decides and loves us and cares for us.

    I agree, but please note I wasn’t saying anything to the contrary – it us by grace that we are saved. I’m sure we agree on that.

    Hi Anon,

    Analogies are of this nature, they are not literally the entirety of the picture, just a succinct way of explaining something complex. You said “The problem with this analogy is that it assumes the person with the handicap “wins” salvation.”

    The intention of the analogy is only to use win in the sense of an end result, not win on one’s own efforts, as made throughout (see above comment to Paul). So Mr Smith had the better handicap, which is God’s grace, and wins the victory because of it – “not because he’s relying on his own qualities, but because he’s relying on God’s gift of salvation and God’s help in becoming more Christ-like.”

    Best Wishes

    James

    By James Knight - 8th May 2017
  10. What a beautiful, easy to understand analogy. Well done you!

    By MJ Agosta - 18th May 2017
  11. Thanks MJ – glad you liked.

    By James Knight - 27th May 2017

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