Do you know the lyrics to Amazing Grace?
Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found; was blind but now I see.
Some folks in my faith community don’t like ‘wretch.’ And I see their point. For too long, the church used shame as a weapon, particularly against women, to encourage compliance with moral norms. But are we, in fact, wretched whether we like it or not?
I’m a big fan of Disney’s The Lion King. With its wonderful music and animation, Shakespearean themes, and redemption narrative, there’s a lot to love. At one point in Simba’s journey, he experiences a vision of his dead father. The message of Mufasa is short: “Remember who you are.” The strength of this vision compels young Simba to return to his family and assume his rightful place. Cue “The Circle of Life”.
The message Simba needed to hear, “remember”, is a common refrain in the Bible. Remember, you were once slaves and sojourners. Remember, you are the people of God. Remember, you are part of the body of Christ.
One of the best expressions of this remembrance is in the Psalms:
When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars that you have established;
what are human beings that you are mindful of them,
mortals that you care for them?
Yet you have made them a little lower than God,
and crowned them with glory and honor.
On the one hand, what are these puny humans that our Creator is mindful of our existence? And yet, we are just a little less than divine, crowned with glory and honor. In other words, ‘wretch’ and daughter of God!
So the problem (to circle back around) is not that slave trader and clergyman John Newton thinks that we are all wretches. Simultaneously, the problem is not that we in our human arrogance think of ourselves as the pinnacle of creation. The problem is that we have such difficulty holding both ideas in the proper tension.
Crowned with glory and honor, yes!
On good days, on days of amazing grace, we remember. Thanks be to God!