The False Notion of Failure

As Christians, how do we typically interpret pain or loss or failure? If you were standing over the grave of a loved one who had just passed away, you would think me the biggest jerk in the world if I came up, put my arm around you, and asked, "What did you do wrong to deserve this loss?" No, we have learned our lesson from the story of Job, that bad things happen to good people, and that in Job's case, the worst things happen to the best people at times. But in other arenas of life, we equate pain and loss and failure as the result of having made poor decisions.

If we rigorously adhered to the latest diet fad that seemingly was working for everyone else, but not for us, we would think we were doing something wrong.

If our church attendance was suddenly cut in half over several weeks, the elders would start asking the preacher, "What are we doing wrong?"

If we were suddenly diagnosed with a dreaded disease, we might wonder what we did wrong.

If someone approached you at the gas station with soiled clothes, unkempt appearance, and reeking as if they hadn't had a shower in many days, might you instantly assume that their circumstance was a result of their failure?

In John 9, the apostles asked the Lord the same question.

As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him. As long as it is day, we must do the works of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” After saying this, he spit on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man’s eyes. “Go,” he told him, “wash in the Pool of Siloam” (this word means “Sent”). So the man went and washed, and came home seeing. — John 9:1-7

This is an odd story—how many of us would want to receive sight by someone spreading a saliva-mud paste on our eyes?

But this is an uncomfortable story because of Jesus' response to the disciples' question in v. 2: "Who sinned? Him or his parents?"

This would have been the perfect opportunity for the Son of God to deliver a divine clarification on Retribution Theology, the idea that good things happen to good people and bad things happen to bad people. This ancient form of Karma was prevalent, as old as Job's three friends. But Jesus did not respond in this way. He in effect said, "I don't grant your premise." Rather, Jesus made clear that sometimes suffering takes place so that God may work in us and thereby glorify himself.

This makes me uncomfortable. I'm more at home thinking that bad things happen to bad people, and that if I'm good enough, only good things will happen to me. But this isn't biblical. What the Bible does say is that suffering is in the job description of being a Christian (2 Thess 1:4-5; 2 Tim 3:12; Jas 1:2-3; 1 Pet 2:20-21).

The comfort we should take from this is that God allows suffering so that he can be glorified, and there is no greater satisfaction IN this life than to know we are glorifying God WITH our life. As Jesus says, some suffering is so that God can work in us.

How are you suffering today? In what ways are you facing trials, obstacles, or challenges? In what ways are you tempted to see them as evidence that you're doing something wrong. And are you willing to entertain the idea that God intends suffering, failure, and trials for something other than your guilt?

Don't buy into the false notion that failure means fault. Sometimes failure and suffering are opportunities for grace and glory.

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