20100722

Theology of Failure

The bitter sinking feeling in the soul was familiar. I had felt it before. There's nothing else in the world that can me feel so hollow. Fighting against the hot tears that were leaking into the wind as my motorcycle carried me home, I rehashed the conversation. Who had failed: was it God or me?

“I want a better future,” he had said. “I want us to be able to go back to the way things used to be.” A part of me agreed. The world is a lot simpler when you're kids. Right and wrong is more clearly stuck in your head. The decisions you make aren't a matter of life and death. You can make mistakes and they won't ruin you life. But we aren't kids anymore, and there's no going back. Now our decisions have begun to truly shape who we are and who we are becoming. Once brothers, now we were standing on opposite sides of the fence.

If life is a road, there are only two ways to go. Some might say: “there are many paths, but they all lead to the same place.” That's a lie. People who would say that are actually just all together with everyone else on the wide road that heads in one direction. The truth is, there are only two roads. Our problem was that we were on opposing roads. I explained this to him. “What road am I on?” he asked.

I could feel the familiar tug: the Holy Spirit was obviously at the wheel of this conversation.

So I told him the truth. Living for yourself will never make you happy. There's no magic trick, no secret formula to happiness. Thinking that God will give you everything you want if you cross all your t's and dot all your i's just right will only leave you miserable. Not even living for others will make you happy. Living for people always fails because people die, whether we're talking about us or others. Anything you do for you will be meaningless when you die; anything you do for what someone else will think will be meaningless when they die. The only life that has meaning is a life lived for God because God is eternal.

The holy talons of conviction were digging into him sharply. It was obvious both in his eyes and his body language. I know him well and could read him like a book, but it even would have been obvious to a complete stranger. The air was downright charged with the movement of the Holy Spirit. He said nothing, so I continued. I decided a long time ago that I was going to live for God, because that was the only thing that would give my life meaning. We can't find it for ourselves. God has to give it to us, and there's no way to earn it...

That's when it happened.

“Well, thanks for the visit, but it's late and you need to get home. Have a good trip back to the States. Tell everyone I said hello.” He stuck out his hand, but I felt like I had been stabbed. After a moment of stunned silence, I shook it. What else was there to say other than goodbye? So that's exactly what I did, then I drove away. I didn't look back; I couldn't look back. It hurt too much. For the second time in our relationship, I had confronted him with the truth and he had refused it.

Despite my best efforts to put it out of my mind, I'm still on the motorcycle, metaphorically speaking. So who failed, God or me? I don't believe it was me. After all, there's nothing I could ever say or do to save anyone; that's all in God's hands. And I'd gone into the situation with a lot of prayer put into it before hand, hoping that a door would be opened. It was, and I could feel God leading the way, so I followed to the best of my ability. I could second guess myself forever, but the fact is I did my best with the shot I had, and no amount of rehashing will grant me a do-over.

So what then? Does it mean that God failed? I refuse to believe that. If God could fail, he wouldn't be God. And if you want to believe that God wasn't and isn't interested in saving my former brother, you've got another thing coming. It was so obvious God was reaching out His hand as we talked. I could almost see it with my two eyes. There is no way that it was a failure on God's part.

No, God didn't fail my friend, and neither did I. It's not a question of who failed my friend. He made the choice, that's the real problem. He made the choice to close his ears. He made the choice to harden his heart. He made the choice to ignore the conviction that was battling for his soul, the choice to ignore the loving embrace of a brother. That's the theology of failure: individual choice. Sorry Calvin, grace is not irresistible. If it was, my brother would already be a saint twice over.

True, if there was no choice there could be no failure, but neither could there be love. You can't have your cake and eat it too: the ability to love goes hand in hand with the ability to reject that same love. He alone is responsible for his choices, not me, and not God. And someday he will answer for them. He might want to skip over the death and judgment part now, but they are both inescapable in the long run.

As it turns out, what he has decided not to know might just kill him. I just pray he'll decide to listen before the time of grace runs out. No one knows how long he has, but what I do know is that the clock is ticking, and no amount of cotton will keep the deafening tick-tock out of my spirit. The wonderful thing about choice is that sometimes we change our minds; maybe someday he'll change his mind and decide to listen. But until he does, my former brother will be the poster-boy for the theology of failure.

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