I looked up the word and it pretty much means what you'd expect it to: "a despicable or vile person." I can surely associate with that. But there was a synonym listed in the definition that struck me:
I thought about that word for awhile. Am I the villain in God's story? The answer is far too often, I'm afraid, yes.
When Jonah boarded a boat to get as far away as possible from God's will, he became the villain in the story. His sin brought a horrific storm on a ship full of sailors who were not party to his sin. Consequences of one's sin are rarely, if ever, heaped only on the sinner. I too, have boarded the boat to Tarsus. I have tried to flee from God's guidance. I have seen the consequences of my own sins leave their stains on other hearts.
When David decided that he wanted another man's wife, he became the villain in the story. Consumed by his lust, fleshly desires and greed, he went as far as to commit murder to try to cover up his sin. I too have peered over the balcony and coveted that which is not mine. And I have dug deeper holes to cover the sins I thought could be hidden. Though I have not committed physical murder, how many have I "killed" with my word and deed?
When we first learn of Paul in the Gospel, he is already the villain. His life was dedicated to persecuting believers. He stood by as others stoned Stephen. His life mission was to destroy those who worshipped God. I have been complacent in the destruction of fellow believers. I have watched them stumble, only to throw stones or turn my back as others hurled theirs.
I am the wretch.
I am the villain.
But the beauty of the Gospel is found in that very same hymn that brings us that awful word. The wretch can be saved. The villain's heart can be turned. God's grace put Jonah back on course. It allowed David to go down in history not as a wretch, but as "a man after God's own heart." Grace is what turned Saul into Paul.
That same grace is available to me and to you. But, as in each of these stories, it takes repentence. Whether you pray that prayer in the belly of fish, on your knees in your castle or on a dusty road in the middle of nowhere, grace is there. For every wretch. For every villain.
Yes, John Newton was right. It IS amazing.