A God of Second Chances? No, Even More!
“I do not say to you seven times, but seventy seven times.”
When I was in theological school, my classmates and I watched as our biblical heroes became ordinary people. They no longer lived perfect lives, but in some way, they all became flawed. Yes, every one of them.
In the first year of our three-year master’s degree program, we received intensive study in the Bible, both the Old and New Testaments. We couldn’t read what we wanted to read; we had to read every verse.
Deep within these stories, we found darker tales than those we had been taught in church or through common societal impressions. For us, it was a period of biblical deconstruction. In our first year, all of us attended classes for over forty hours and were asked to read close to 700 pages and write 30 pages every week. It was theological boot camp.
For the most part, we all survived, but in so doing, we learned to think more critically about the Bible and to form our opinions differently—to go deeper into the Bible and hear what others had to say. It was an effort to not merely believe in the saving grace of Christ but to know why we believed.
Our heroes, like Abraham, became different when viewed through this new lens. Abraham was a great man, but like the rest of us, he was flawed. When God promised Abraham and Sarah a child when they were well past their childbearing ages, Abraham and Sarah didn’t fully believe. Instead, they asked Sarah’s handmaiden, Hagar, to have a baby for them. They named this son Ismael.
Much to their surprise, they later did have a baby—Isaac—as God had promised. Abraham’s doubt made us question whether he should be considered the father of three religions.
Or Moses, who murdered an Egyptian in his youth. When God first came to Moses, he doubted God’s voice. Moses needed many signs before he believed.
Consider David, the person whom God praised by calling him “a man after God’s own heart.” This same man would later have the husband of a woman he desired murdered.
Rahab, who is listed in Jesus’s genealogy, was a prostitute.
Jonah, the person who survived being consumed by a whale, needed three lessons from God.
Paul, the great communicator of the Good News of the Gospel, had previously chased down Christians to have them arrested.
And certainly Peter, who denied the Lord three times on Good Friday.
There are many more stories of people from the Bible whom we loved, but all were flawed.
Initially, all of us in the first year missed the point of these stories and at times questioned what we believed. Why did these superheroes have flaws?
But it is not so much about their flaws as much as it is about God. Our God is not a condemning God but a God of second chances and love for humankind. Everything God does is born of love.
All these flawed people of the Bible got second and third and fourth chances. In each of their hearts, God saw greatness when humankind saw only weakness. Our God is a forgiving God, as Jesus pointed out to Peter when he asked Jesus if he should stop forgiving after seven times. Jesus replied, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.” In biblical terms, this meant always.
It is hard to forgive, and for some, it is even harder to forgive themselves. No life can go even a day without some trespass. This isn’t to say that making mistakes is good, but rather it is how we handle and learn from our mistakes. We always get to choose whether we have a hardened heart or a forgiving one.
After the first year of survival and deconstruction, we began to reframe how we thought through exploring Augustine, Julian of Norwich, Francis of Assisi, and many more. We learned how to think differently and interpret what we read.
At the beginning of my third year, I watched the bouncy and enthusiastic first-year students walk the halls. Much like any seasoned veteran, I knew what lay ahead for them and wanted to tell them what they would discover. But I knew they would have to go through the same things that I and my fifty other compatriots had endured to reach the same conclusions.
I found a new way to look at our forgiving and loving God. The stories of the Bible are to be idolized but also wondered about.
It isn’t people God hates; it is the sin God hates.
Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman
Dr. Bruce L. Hartman is the author of Jesus & Co. and Your Faith Has Made You Well.
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