For we each of us deserve everything, every luxury that was ever piled in the tombs of the dead kings, and we each of us deserve nothing, not a mouthful of bread in hunger. Have we not eaten while another starved? Will you punish us for that? Will you reward us for the virtue of starving while others ate? No man earns punishment, no man earns reward. Free your mind of the idea of deserving, the idea of earning, and you will begin to be able to think.The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin
I find myself very often obsessing over the idea of deserving. Everything needs to be earned or owed, and I feel guilty or jealous when the balance doesn’t match my estimations. As a society, we fixate on who deserves what. Do poor people deserve food or luxuries? Do investors deserve returns on their investments? We allow ourselves to be consumed with this, in spite of knowing (whether we admit it or not) that almost none of what we receive or what is done to us has anything to do with what we deserve. I feel I deserve what I have because I worked for it. But does the person who worked twice as hard and got nothing deserve what I have, instead? We get anxious when these ideas of deserving what we have are challenged, as well. Much of what I have in life has more to do with whiteness and other forms of systemic privilege than my own efforts, and it’s been a painful process to recognize that. Whether at a personal or systemic level, even a very simple examination shows us that factors well outside our control determine much of what’s granted to people in the world, and yet we hang on to this metric that continues to fail us. But there is another way.
The beauty of divine love is that it is unconditional and unchanging, and has absolutely nothing at all to do with what we deserve. Nothing we do can reduce it or cancel it out. You can no more affect the amount of God’s love available to you than you can change the temperature outside your house on any given day. You can close all the windows and doors and blow hot or cold air through the house, or do any number of other things to hide from it, but the weather will still be out there the next time you open the door. Even in spite of all these efforts, that weather still has an impact on the indoor temperature. In the same way, we can shut ourselves off from that unconditional divine love and support. We practice ignoring it. We build up systems completely contrary to it in which we can find a measure of our worth over and against others. And we get very good at these things over time. But the doors are still there, even if it takes some struggle and handiwork to get them open again
This source of love is unmarred by any action we can take, and we can return to it no matter how many times we’ve turned away. Denying or hiding from divine love won’t put us forever outside of it or cause some wrathful storm of vengeance. It’s not about coercion or threats. So why should we seek it out? Why dwell in it if we can walk away and still come back?
God’s grace is not to relieve us from some threat if we don’t comply. It is victory over death of our own individual and collective making. It brings us freedom from the harmful habits, anxieties, and various deaths both big and small we fall prey to when we live outside that love. It tells us we are loved and will be cared for, no matter what we have done. Christ gained victory over death, and cleared the path for us to do the same. It’s not only for those who deserve freedom from death. We don’t earn grace like a wage or salary. By accepting the unlimited and unconditional love of God, we move away from the system which only grants us what we deserve, and teaches (and requires) us to afford that same grace to others.
Dwelling in God’s love provides us with a blueprint for a better world. Not only do we find individual freedom, but we can build a new world centered on grace, as well. When we know we all carry that love inside us and live out our lives from that place of love, we help to build the Kingdom of God. We built it here in this world, but not based on the rules of this world. All the blessings of that Kingdom are available to all of us, like God’s love. It doesn’t require us checking others’ time cards to see if they’ve met a quota. It doesn’t require us to determine if someone has the potential to pay back what has been given to them. No person needs to prove their worth, productivity, or ability to be a member of that Kingdom. We can each rest in the knowledge that the fruits of the Kingdom do not belong to us, nor to anyone but God. And that God, working through us, will provide them to all.
There’s a new creation being made, and nothing we can do will change that. The only question is whether we will take part in its work and open ourselves to its rewards, or spend our time arguing and fighting over what we deserve.