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Grace comes in all sizes

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I’m going to tell you something that will make you crazy. It might make you throw this newspaper down or spit out your coffee. You may send me a scathing e-mail or anonymous letter. You’ll definitely question my Christianity.

Here it goes: Jeffrey Dahmer might be in heaven.

Yes, that Jeffrey Dahmer, the serial-killing cannibal. In 1992, he was sentenced to life in prison—and was later beaten to death in 1994 by another inmate. Six months before that, according to the Milwaukee Sentinel and other sources, Dahmer reportedly came to faith in Christ and was baptized.

I’m not saying for sure he’s in heaven, but if that really happened, if a genuine “by grace are ye saved through faith” transaction took place in his heart, then he is.

He’s in heaven—and religious Aunt Ida, who never missed Sunday school in her entire life and who trusted in that to get her in the Pearly Gates, isn’t. I told you that would make you crazy.

The truth is, although we church people love to sing about “Amazing Grace how, sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me,” we really hate grace. Oh, we love it for ourselves, but we hate it for others. We hate it for Jeffrey Dahmer.

He doesn’t deserve it.

We think grace is OK for those who clean themselves up. Or maybe, under special circumstances, grace is OK for those who are still dirty, yet have potential—like for the prostitute with a heart of gold or the alcoholic who isn’t such a bad guy when he’s not drunk. But not for serial killers, and certainly not for cannibals.

Sure, the Bible says grace is totally a gift from God and nobody earns his or her way into heaven and that God gives his gift of salvation to whomever he chooses ...

But that doesn’t include Jeffrey Dahmer, does it? It can’t include him, can it? God’s grace surely isn’t for people like him!

Is it? Here’s a story that church people hate, even though Jesus told it and church people generally like his stories.

Not this one, though.

There once was a man who owned a vineyard and went out early in the morning to hire some guys to work in it.

They all agreed on the wage, and set out to work. Later in the day, the man hired more workers—at the same pay. As the day wore on, he kept hiring more workers, all at the same pay.

Finally, he hired the last few who barely tied their shoes before the foreman called it quitting time. They lined up to be paid, with those who were hired last being paid first. When they opened their pay envelopes, they let out a whoop. Even though they knew they hadn’t earned it, they still received a full day’s pay.

Then the next group got paid, then the next—all receiving the same amount. That’s when the first group, who had worked the longest and hardest, started talking among themselves. “Maybe we’ll get a bonus,” one of them said.

But they didn’t. They got the same as everyone else. “No fair!” one guy said, throwing down his hat. “Why should those guys get the same thing we get?”

The vineyard owner replied, “I haven’t been unfair to you. I gave you exactly what we agreed on. As for the other guys, it’s my money, and I felt like being generous. Don’t I have that right? Or are you envious because I’m generous?” (Matthew 20:1-16)

Murderers and thieves—and people most respectable folks call “sinners”—love that story, especially when they realize it’s about God’s grace, and how it can’t be earned and that he gives it to whomever he chooses—and that he usually chooses those who least “deserve” it. It’s the church folks—who don’t smoke, don’t drink, don’t cuss and who wag their fingers at people who do and who think that’s why God should choose them—who hate this story.

Funny, in a sad sort of way, isn’t it? I don’t know if Jeffery Dahmer is in heaven, but if he is, he’s there the only way any of us will get there—not by any good thing we’ve done, but solely by God’s gift of grace.

That, my friend, is grace. It either makes you crazy or makes you glad.

Nancy Kennedy can be reached via e-mail at nkennedy@chronicleonline.com.