Life failures are never a central focus of normal conversation, and it only surfaces as a topic for public discussion following a successful retrospective endeavour. The Bible, however, possesses no such inhibitions within its covers, for God is brutally candid and straightforwardly persistent in demonstrating the faults and failures of man; principally encompassing familial (e.g., Abram and Sarah’s treatment of Hagar; Jacob and Esau’s infighting) and leadership (e.g., Israel and Judah’s rulers; Eli’s sons of ill repute), moral and spiritual (e.g., Israel’s betrayal of Yahweh; Ananias and Sapphira lying to the Holy Spirit), and ecclesiastical failures (e.g., the New Testament churches’ unorthodoxies). Undeviatingly, Scripture emphasises that our life, this side of heaven, is fraught with unrelenting disappointments, fiascos and suffering, and if we have not learnt to cope with some level of maturity in managing our expectations, the abnormality of our level of mental and emotional anguish may customarily degrade our faith.
“Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before stumbling” (Prov 16:18) is a pertinent reminder that when we allow successes to get to us, pride is unsurprisingly birthed, and usually accompanied by a predictable fall, as illustrated by the demise of Samson, King David (the Bathsheba incident) and his son, Solomon (showing off his wealth and power to a Babylonian monarch’s son), and the Apostle Peter (Matt 26). The vulnerability of insecure human predilections ensures that we are least aware of our pride and failings, predisposing us to fail repeatedly, seemingly unable to learn our lessons; as exemplified by Abraham’s continuing lies on his relationship to Sarah in their travels, and the immorality within the proud Corinthian church. Nevertheless, the level of anguish and regret at failing to abide by God’s instructions can be excruciating in hindsight; Moses’ disobedience resulted in his being barred from entering the Promised Land after leading His people for over four decades is an example. The costs for our failures need to be purposefully counted if we are to learn from them.
The inimitable Book of Psalms provides us with a clear aide-mémoire that sharing our failures before God and man can be a safe undertaking (c.f., Ps 34; Ps 73). Moreover, Job’s narrative appears exemplary as he led us through his roller-coaster struggles between castigating God for his ruin and reproaching his friends for their disheartening counsels. Besides, in almost every one of the epistles in the New Testament, they testify to the abject moral and spiritual failures of the early churches, sufficiently to warn and to encourage us to learn from their mistakes. These accounts reassure us as we seek to be authentic about our failures. The security of our identity In Christ ought to promote a level of openness in the church community as we acknowledge the safety we have in being transparent with each other, especially within a discipleship context.
As believers, even though we are plagued by our never-ending failures, we are defined by our faith in Jesus Christ and not by our failures (c.f., Heb 11). However, when we do fail and sin, we have been emphatically advised to repent and seek God’s forgiveness, and mercy and grace will be extended (Rom 10:9), as our fellowship with God is restored (2 Cor 5:21; Rom 3:21-26). However, not all failures are due to sin. Humility is the persistent recognition that our humanity is imperfect in the face of Yahweh’s holiness, and if we are to remain faithful to His claims on our lives, we are dependent on His grace and lovingkindness as we walk in step with His Holy Spirit for the rest of our earthly days. Occasionally, we may objectively catch a glimpse of God’s wise provisions as He sees us through our disappointments and failures, but by and large, we are kept in the dark, not unlike Job. Then, it becomes a test of our faith! Nevertheless, our weary soul longs for the day when there will be an absence of mourning and tears, or pain and death (Rev 21:1-4). What is important is not the outcome of our travails but how we walk through them with our Lord! So, allow our earthly troubles and failures to continually drive us closer to the Author and Perfector of our faith (Heb 12:1-2).