Failure in any aspect of life or living is not generally regarded sympathetically in our culture. Although some may encourage those of us who have failed in some way or another and tell us that our failure is not final – that is often of very little comfort. Failure – or perceived failure, can mean the loss of a job, position, respect, money, credibility and future opportunity.
In addition the man or woman who has failed, especially if they have been in a position of influence or authority, will lose many friends very quickly.
In the ‘Christian’ world the same is true – if not more so. A lifetime of friendships, which we thought could whether any storm, can disappear overnight. And the reason can even be as innocent as leaving one church for another. In the eyes of your ‘church’ friends you instantly become a failure – not worthy of even being polite to any more. How sad and heartbreaking. And should the disgrace of failure come in the realm of morality, in the widest sense of the term, it will bring with it additional censure, condemnation and ostracisation.
I am not saying that moral failure in the life of the Christian is of no consequence – nor am I saying that standards of behaviour in general are not important in the spiritual life – they are. But I fear that much of our view of those who have failed, and of ourselves when we fail, is based on a faulty view of the bedrock on which the Christian life is founded.
How often have we felt or perhaps even said ‘Well I’m not much of a Christian’ after an angry outburst, an unkind word or action, one drink too many or what appeared to be convenient at the time but we really knew all along was a lie. People have given up on the life of faith altogether in the light of such things. In this current lockdown I have also spoken to people who question their Christianity because they are not able to ‘do’ anything in the life of faith at this present time.
The lie here is that I am a Christian only because of what I can ‘do’ for God – and that he accepts me under such terms. The lie here is I am only a Christian if I can maintain God’s moral code otherwise God has no use for me. The lie here is that my Christian life is one which is in reality based on my performance or lack of it.
A have no doubt whatsoever that what I have said above is the real life journey and experience of many who call themselvs ‘Christian’ – but what I do not understand is how we have come to believe it – because it is so far removed from the truth revealed in the Bible! The Bible is full of real life failure stories – but none of them presuppose that failure equals the rejection of God or the abandonment of the life of faith – in fact the opposite is true. Think of the lives of Moses, Elijah and Peter to name only three. Think of the parables of Jesus – the lost sheep and the lost son come immediately to mind – but they are only two of many failure stories. I would go so far as to say that God specialises in failures! It was a wrecked, emaciated, stinking man who had failed spectacularly in his life and relationships that the father in Jesus story, held tight in his embrace and smothered in kisses!
Let me ask you this? If you are a parent was there a time when you looked at your baby son or daughter and longed for the day when they were old enough to start serving you? When your child made a mess of their exams did you punish them and restrict all their privileges? When your teenager came home dirty and sick after a night partying did you kick them down the steps of the front door? When you child failed morally did you tell them they were no longer to be considered part of the family? Some might (sadly some religious people do) but I can assure you beyond all doubt God is not that kind of parent! And before everything else he is your loving, gracious, merciful, tender, Father! All ‘failure’ is secondary to that fact!
So if today you consider yourself a failure – if today you have rejected yourself as of any importance or value to God – if today your life of faith has crashed and burned – please take heart and some comfort from the fact that God had not rejected you! He still loves you and he is still standing on that dusty road with his arms wide open waiting to embrace you with his love and mercy. He is still your father! You are still his child!