Noticing Human Failure
When you look at yourself, other people, or the world in general, how do you deal with the failure you observe? Do you get disappointed, depressed, impatient, frustrated, or even angry? What do you do with these reactions? Do you wish you could stop having them? Do you wish that the people would change so that your life wouldn't be so troubled? Have you ever tried to not care so that then you wouldn't feel so hurt?
Let's approach this situation from a different angle. We have all failed morally, and more times than we notice. Have you ever been surprised at your failure, wondering how you could possibly have done such a terrible thing, or done it again? Have you ever wished that you had tried harder so as to have avoided failure, or at least to have not failed so greatly? Have you ever found yourself surprised at the failures of others: your wife, your children, your friends, fellow saints, or even pastors? Why were you surprised?
God Notices Human Failure
God is never surprised at your moral failings or mine. It is good for us to always love Him with our whole heart, soul, mind, and strength and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. And it is never good to compromise those standards. God always loves perfectly. Since He is responsible to resolve all issues in the moral world, He notices every violation of perfect love. Perfect love doesn't pretend sin away, but rather deals with it in a righteous way--always--and sends it away. Read about the first failing of our first parents and see if you can notice any surprise, impatience, frustration, or anger on God's part. It isn't there. Adam and Eve sinned and hid in fear from God. But God didn't hesitate to draw close to them. He went to them and spoke to them like a kind father to bless them with words of a promise of hope, even while explaining the curse resulting from their sin. Have you ever wondered why God did not seem bothered by their sin? I suggest that it is because God's goodness is full of surprises and that this is the biggest surprise.
All Sin Converges at the Cross
All the sin committed from Adam to the cross was left unresolved by God in anticipation of the cross. God saw this from before the creation of the universe (1Peter 1:17-23) and desired to reveal His goodness in a glorious way. Read closely Paul's declaration in Romans 3:24-26 that God passed over ALL sin in order to reveal His righteousness at the proper time--at the cross. Notice that God both is righteous and makes righteous all who are persuaded that Christ's faithfulness is their only hope. David killing Goliath didn't reveal the seriousness of Goliath's mockery of God. The flood didn't reveal the seriousness of the world's sin. Sodom being consumed by fire from heaven didn't reveal the truth about their sin. Certainly these events hinted that sin was terrible, but only the cross reveals the seriousness of sin. The cross reveals that only the death of God Himself can overcome sin. Read Romans 1:32 in several translations and notice that God has written into the conscience of every person that every sin deserves death. Paul declared earlier in the chapter (verse 18) that we humans suppress that knowledge. Today we live in the light of the cross, looking to Christ as the one who 1) in His death and resurrection is our freedom, peace, and satisfaction in a broken world, and 2) in His future coming to bring physical recreation and make public to all His good judgment--that goodness is a seamless whole, that violation of it deserves death, that He gladly took the death all people deserve, that He offered as a gift life in goodness free from the pressure of personal performance, and that those who rejected His goodness will receive the full weight of His good judgment on their self-righteousness.
God is not Surprised at Human Failure
Notice the theme in the following three passages from Isaiah. "Lord, you will establish peace for us, since you have also performed for us all our work." -26:12 "The Lord is well-pleased for His righteousness' sake; He will exalt the law and make it glorious." -42:21 "By his knowledge my righteous servant will make many righteous, for he will bear away their transgressions." -53:11 Here it is again 100 years later in Jeremiah 31:14: "'I will fill the soul of the priests with abundance, and My people will be satisfied with My goodness,' declares the Lord." God is not surprised at human failure because He delights to be the provider of all we need. He has made His goodness to be our satisfaction. If God thinks this way how could He possibly be disappointed or surprised by human failure?
Your Surprise at Human Failure
Your surprise at human moral failing results from only one thing: not viewing the world in a good way--through perfect love--through the goodness of God being the satisfaction for His people. If you are a Christian, then God has declared for all time that His goodness is your satisfaction. Do you see how all encompassing that is? When you fail and get upset at your failure, you have two problems. When you see a fellow saint fail and you get upset about it, you simply have more of those same two problems. If you see a non-Christian fail and you get upset about it, you have those same two problems nuanced from a different angle. Here are the two problems.
Both problems are related to forgetfulness. First, God is not a God of second chances. Rather, He is the God of one chance and a new creation. If you had a zero tolerance for sin like God does, and you never forgot this principle, then you would never get upset with anyone who sins, no matter how great the violation. You may wonder at this point, "Then why is God's anger mentioned so often in the Old Testament?" I plan to write on this topic, but for now would suggest two teaser questions. In my observation the first mention of God's anger or wrath is toward Moses at the burning bush--2500+ years after Adam. I suggest that there is a surprise in the larger context that helps answer the first question: Why was God angry at Moses? I suggest that there is one event during Moses lifetime that precipitates the regular expression of God's anger that continues all the way through Jesus' preaching. What is that event? Notice the expressions of anger and work backwards in context to the point at which they disappear.
Back to forgetfulness. it is a big deal--far bigger that we tend to think. Again, if you are a Christian, then God's goodness is your satisfaction. The only reason that you would not have an active experience of this satisfaction is because of your forgetfulness. You entered into the beauty of that satisfaction at conversion and have been called to grow in the understanding of it and remembrance of it. When you observe sin in self or others, the pressure is on to forget or get distracted from that true satisfaction. Certainly it is wrong for any person to do evil. But there is no satisfaction from God's view in a person stopping or not doing a specific evil action. The alternative to doing one evil action isn't doing that one thing right, rather it is doing all things right--perfectly right. Learning and remembering this is the spiritual battle. You get upset at sin because you forget that God has a zero tolerance for sin, and you forget that the goodness of God is your satisfaction, the satisfaction of all other saints, and the only hope for satisfaction for all non-Christians. The world preaches a counterfeit satisfaction, but God never honors that pretense.
The Surprise of Grace
What is the opposite of grace? Is it some form of unkindness, meanness, or harshness? I suggest that the surprising and simple opposite of grace is law. The world sees grace as some form of niceness, kindness, or a second chance to be a better person. But heaven sees grace as total freedom from law--the obligation to do what is right. Even more surprising is the realization that to live in grace does not mean living free from performance, but rather living in the performance of Christ free from the pressure of personal performance. Living in grace is not living in a vacuum of no performance. That would be like buying a pet fish and laying it on the counter. A person rather puts the fish in a fish bowl full of water. A Christian is designed to swim and thrive in the performance of Christ. The performance of Christ is simultaneously a zero tolerance for sin and a full satisfaction in the goodness of God. Therefore, while you are mindful that you live in the performance of Christ, out of you flows a zero tolerance for sin and full satisfaction in the goodness of God--no matter how much people around fail. Mindfulness is the issue. When your mind is in the right place then your behavior and attitude will be in the right place. Practice setting your mind in the right place--on the performance of Christ in both of its aspects--and realize that your temptation is always to be distracted from that vision, and you might find yourself enjoying other people while they fail--even while they are mistreating you.
Goodness includes both zero tolerance for sin and full satisfaction in the goodness of God. If we Christians embraced God's vision we might just be the happiest people on the planet.