What is grace? Depending on the context you might define it as simple and elegant movement. (Think ballerinas and Audrey Hepburn.) A second meaning is that quality displayed through good manners, civility and diplomacy. Third would be the prayer said just prior to a meal, but this project is concerned with the theological definition of grace.
Grace is one of the easiest things to describe but often one of the most difficult to embrace. Simply put, grace is the incredible love that God has for us when we are at our very worst. As a Christian I regularly confess that I am "by my own nature, sinful and unclean." Yet, God loves me in my brokenness. God calls me beloved.
In his essay The Promising God, Ronald Thiemann states that "The God who raised Jesus from the dead is necessarily prevenient," by which he means that God loved us first. This is critical to understanding that the grace of God cannot be earned or merited. It is granted before we even are aware of its existence. Thiemann makes the case that since God has promised to be our God and care for us, he necessarily must love first.
In contrast, we live in a world that is constantly keeping score. We demand that systems be fair and that we should get what we've earned. But God doesn't operate that way. Theologian Joseph Sittler said, "the grace of God is deuces wild. It doesn’t play straight. It doesn’t always come just by those occasions which traditionally have been the gracious kind. Grace is a surprise." How fortunate for us!
It is, in the words of writer Brennan Manning "the active expression of [God's] love."