What Does It Mean to "Fall from Grace"?
Generally, the English saying “fall from grace” means a person or group of people has lost favor with another person or group of people. This saying might date back to biblical times, when it was used to describe a rift in the relationship between Jesus Christ and his followers, or non-followers, but it is often used today to describe a shift in the relationship between everyday people. Usually, when a person or group has fallen from grace, it means the person or group has done something to lose favor with others.
Like many idiomatic expressions, the saying “fall from grace” can be traced back to an original time, place, or use, even if the origin is somewhat blurry. For example, it is believed the idiom “fall from grace” originated in biblical times. In Galatians 5:4 of the New Testament of the Christian Bible, Paul of Tarsus tells the Galatians, “Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace.” This quote is from the King James Bible, and the exact wording of the verse in other instances varies depending on which version of the Bible a reader references. Still, every instance of the verse includes some version of the expression.
These days, “fall from grace” might be used in a religious sense, but perhaps it is more commonly used to explain that one person has lost favor with another person. Usually, it describes a shift in the relationship between two people, and often one person holds a higher position or office than the other person. For example, the shift in relationship could take place between a parent and child, employer and employee, or teacher and student. Often, the person in the “lower” position has done something to displease, disappoint, or dissatisfy the person in the “higher” position. If a teacher finds out his star pupil cheated on a test or plagiarized a research paper, that student might fall from grace.
Not all situations applying to the expression “fall from grace” have to take place between two individuals. The situations do not have to take place between a person of a high office and a person of a low office, either. Other types of people or entities can lose favor. For example, one friend might lie to another friend, causing himself to fall from grace in the eyes of his former friend. Likewise, a once well-respected charity might fall from grace in the eyes of the public if it is discovered the organization has been mishandling donations.
I remember when former president Bill Clinton was dealing with the political fallout of the Lewinsky affair and a Congressional impeachment hearing. A lot of pundits were saying he suffered a fall from grace with the American public. At one point, Clinton had one of the highest approval ratings of any person in that office, but his popularity dropped significantly after 1998.
Other presidents and world leaders have also fallen from grace because of a scandal or personal demons. Sometimes they regain part of that grace once they leave office and start doing other kinds of philanthropic work. People used to say Jimmy Carter fell from grace during his last year as president, but he is now considered to be one of the most effective ex-presidents in modern memory.
I've heard this expression quite a bit in connection with public figures who disappointed their fans or followers in a big way. When the TV evangelist Jimmy Swaggart admitted to meeting with prostitutes, for example, there were a lot of Christians who felt like he had fallen from grace. He may have led a very successful ministry for decades before that, but once he committed the same sins he routinely condemned in his sermons, he suffered a fall from grace. It was the same for other prominent evangelists, such as Jim Bakker and Ernest Angley.
Personally, I don't believe a fall from grace has to be a permanent condition. Jimmy Swaggart himself begged for forgiveness on national television and now has a new televised ministry as a result of his contriteness. Others may not recover quite as well, but it depends on how sincerely they want to be forgiven.
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