How does God respond to human failure?

Kenneth R. Wade, ministerial secretary, Southeast Asia Union Mission, Singapore, and former associate editor of Ministry.

The gruff words and screams of pain coming from the women's restroom betrayed the fact that Mrs. G's grand daughter must have wiggled in the pew one too many times again. As a boy I often observed Mrs. G at church. (I don't remember her real name. She lives vividly in my memory, though—as Mrs. Grim!)

No one seemed to know her very well. Probably because you couldn't catch her eye to strike up a conversation. She was always too busy frowning at the floor. Since her own daughter or son no longer attended church, Mrs. G had taken it upon herself to make sure that her grandchildren learned religion. Of ten she marshaled the boy and girl, who appeared to be about 3 and 4 years old, into the pew directly behind the one where my family sat, so I was painfully aware of each slap, fillip, and rebuke the children endured.

It didn't surprise me when the children quit coming to church. I wonder whether they have been able yet to begin to think of religion or God without feeling a knot in their stomachs. Do they continue to live in fear that God will respond to their every misstep with summary justice?

Some people see God that way. Others see Him as a laissez-faire benefactor whose strongest response to our bumbling rebelliousness is an amused chuckle.

How does God respond to human failure? Your answer to that question has a lot to do with how you represent Him to those around you. If you see Him as a stern disciplinarian intent on exacting His pound of flesh for every fault, you may end up portraying Him to others after the manner of Mrs. G. But it is equally fallacious to portray Him as an imperturbable observer who doesn't care whether we succeed or fail in our walk with Him.

Allowing for failure

I've become deeply impressed recently with the amount of emphasis the Bible gives one particular characteristic of God: His willingness to accept and work with human frailty and failing. Of course, the first example of this is found in Genesis 3. Another good example is seen in God's patience with Abraham's repeated at tempts to answer his own prayers. And of course, the New Testament has its stories of the prodigal's father, and Christ's acceptance of Peter even after the disciple denied his Lord. But it is the jubilee system described in Leviticus 25 that brings God's accepting, forgiving attitude down to the life of the common person.

In instituting this system that assured that a family's property would return to it every fiftieth year, God made it plain that the basis of this plan lay in the fact that He was the ultimate owner of every thing. "The land shall not be sold permanently, for the land is Mine; for you are strangers and sojourners with Me," He said (Lev. 25:23, NKJV).

The effect of this system was to decree that no matter how bad you "blew it" in your business dealings, your fate was not to be left up to your peers and competitors. No. It rested in the hands of God. And God would always give you, or your descendants, a chance to start over again from square one.

Sure there would be suffering along the way, and it would be difficult to start over again from scratch. But you would always know that though you had failed, in God's sight you were not a failure. That you were not worth any less than your neighbor. That God still had an inheritance for you to claim.

Such a thought ought to put a spring in the step and straighten the stature of any man or woman. It ought to make us not only confident but jubilant in our God. If only Mrs. G had seen God in that light. She might have had more success in reclaiming her children and their children for God.

If only you and I could see God in that light, and remember Him in that way when it comes time to deal with people who we believe have "let God down."

How do we treat church members who have repeatedly made a failure of their attempts to serve God? Maybe they've come to church for a while, then started spending their time at a bar or nightclub instead. How do we treat them when they come back maybe with alcohol on their breath? The first or second time it's OK—we welcome them with open arms. But how about the sixteenth or seventeenth time? Isn't it about time by then that we start ministering God's displeasure to them by not accepting and helping them any more?

Or is it possible that the message God would really want us to portray is what He portrayed in the jubilee system: There are evil consequences for mistakes. You will suffer for what you have done. But if you will return to Me, I still hold out to you the eternal inheritance that is only Mine to give.

And what about the way we treat our selves? How do you feel when you have let God down? Discouragement is one of Satan's sharpest tools. But it cannot pierce the armor of jubilation.

Wherever you are in your walk with God, reconsider God's jubilee message. Then jubilate in Him!

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Kenneth R. Wade, ministerial secretary, Southeast Asia Union Mission, Singapore, and former associate editor of Ministry.

July 1990

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