I always thought that seemed a smug presumption.
You know the rest of it: "There, but for the grace of God, go I." It presumes that the poor bastard you're referring to did not have (and by implication must not have deserved) the grace of God and you are therefore thankful to God that it was somebody else and not you who was dropped into life's dunk tank.
A couple of weeks ago I got a note from a special friend telling me that he had just attended his son's 32nd birthday party. It was a joyous affair with many friends and members from both sides of the young man's family in attendance. The birthday boy's own daughter was there. You can just imagine.
Then, my friend told me that a couple of days later his son, his pride and joy, had been killed in a car crash while going to the mountains for a day of snowboarding with a friend.
I reject the smug presumption and yet, I can't stop thinking it.
My own son's 32nd birthday was two days ago, barely a week after my friend lost his. We went to dinner, gave him gifts, sang to him, lit candles, cut the cake and when the evening was over I hugged him tighter than usual and told him this story.
"You're not supposed to bury your kids," I told my son as he held his own son in his arms. "When you were born I made a deal with God. I promised to raise you and give you all the things you would need to make a wonderful, happy life for yourself. In exchange I simply asked that he not let me bury you."
I hugged him again. I hugged my grandson and my friend, though he wasn't there.
And I gave silent thanks to God in the form of a seemingly smug presumption. But now I realize it isn't like that.
It's just the natural confluence of relief and faith.