We simply can’t imagine a God who doesn’t think and act like us in relation to failure. Which is why we need a new mind.
To be clear, when I say failure, I mean sin. How do we view ourselves when we fail again…and again…and again? How do we treat others when they fail? The fact is, all our reference points are skewed. Our default inner faith system is to believe God is at least a little like us in our pettiness, unforgiveness and revenge. So when we stew in emotions of regret and blame toward others, in the twisted, secret places of our soul, we might take cruel comfort knowing (we think) that He feels this way, too. Because when we fail, we feel His disappointment in us. Since we feel it, we believe it is Him projecting it. Like Adam and Eve, we immediately start looking for proverbial leaves to cover our rears.
I cannot be more plain: This is a false image of God. Yet it is surprising prevalent among those who claim to drink from fountains of mercy and grace in Christ.
Alas, the tendency is understandable. First, you may have a long track record of parents, friends, spouses, pastors, bosses and others who kept score on your life down to the tiniest hash marks; who manipulated and judged you for every wrong move. If you had a perfectionistic mom or dad, then even your right moves were never right enough. You know what it’s like to jump through hoops to keep someone happy, but never quite jumping high enough. You’re guilty of the same. Others have had to jump through your hoops. Screw up once, I’ll forgive. Screw up twice, I’ll tell you I told you so. Screw up three times and, buddy, we have a real problem. At that point, you’ve forced me (I don’t want to! Remember, you brought this on yourself!) to pull out hoops. How else can you prove to me that you’re really going to change this time? Start jumping, my friend (or spouse, or child), I’ll tell you when you’re done.
Our generous nature runs about two mercies deep. Of course, God is more generous. His may run three or four, or on a good day, five mercies deep, but we’re pretty certain that, deep down, He actually approves of our jaded, judgmental ways—I mean, wise, discerning and responsible—because people need to be held to account for their actions, including us. And nobody counts better than God.
But then that drat, pesky Bible gets in the way. Like,
God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, NOT COUNTING their trespasses against them” (2 Cor. 5:19).
Whoa, hang on! That’s different, right? That’s how you got saved, that’s not daily life, right? Salvation is some sort of grand, mystical exception that gets the ball rolling, but nobody can keep that up. The whole system will go to the muckety-mucks if we just let everyone run around and do their own thing. People need to be responsible, moral agents. You have to do your part. Trespasses must be counted. That’s how we know who’s a good disciple and who is slacking off. Quit making excuses about feeling helpless against your sin. God helps those who help themselves!
For while we were still HELPLESS, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.”
Okay, fine. Maybe once I was helpless. Maybe I once was blind, but now I see. That’s the point! I see that I’ve got to be responsible now, and so do you. Sure, I’m far more sympathetic to my own mistakes than yours. Yours are pretty dumb, honestly. Anyone can see that, and you would, too, if you took this whole “walk with God” more seriously. Grace kickstarted me into a better life with God, and I’m thankful. But remember, it’s impractical to think we can all just keep falling back on grace every time we screw up. People will start to get lazy and milk the system. Sloppy grace. Cheap grace. Better to warn people so that they never even need grace. Yep, that’s way better. That’s holy.
Forgive the sarcasm, but we are so deeply enthralled with our own moralizing that it takes some jarring language just to realize how we’ve actually defiled grace by trying to protect it with our good conduct. We’ve normalized an understanding and expression of grace that is actually very different from the heart of grace. I’m going to let one of my favs, Robert Farrar Capon, shake us up a bit:
“Trust him. And when you have done that, you are living the life of grace. No matter what happens to you in the course of that trusting — no matter how many waverings you may have, no matter how many suspicions that you have bought a poke with no pig in it, no matter how much heaviness and sadness your lapses, vices, indispositions, and bratty whining may cause you — you believe simply that Somebody Else, by his death and resurrection, has made it all right, and you just say thank you and shut up. The whole slop-closet full of mildewed performances (which is all you have to offer) is simply your death; it is Jesus who is your life. If he refused to condemn you because your works were rotten, he certainly isn’t going to flunk you because your faith isn’t so hot. You can fail utterly, therefore, and still live the life of grace. You can fold up spiritually, morally, or intellectually and still be safe. Because at the very worst, all you can be is dead – and for him who is the Resurrection and the Life, that just makes you his cup of tea.” — Robert Farrar Capon
My friends…grace to you!