Theology in our failure: The journey towards authenticity
by Erin Wikle and Joy K. Lee –
My [Erin] daughter Eva just turned five months old. Recently, she’s become interested in doing the seemingly impossible for her age. Her most recent endeavor? Crawling—unsuccessful crawling. Poor thing has too often lunged forward, face-planting straight into the floor. Becoming frustrated, she cries for us to pick her up or at least help her somehow. We usually cheer her on, as she understands the concept of, “Yay!” and beams at us happily. Though time and time again she fails at her attempts to crawl, we just keep rooting her on—knowing that someday soon (too soon) baby proofing will be in order!
Eva is only five months old. I don’t view her mighty attempts at crawling as moments of failure. It seems, however, that the same grace I have for my little one is not the same grace I fumble with when it comes to my own peers. Why have we attached such a stigma to failure, especially in the adult arena? When children look towards an adult, they hope (and we hope) to see a complete, infallible, “grown-up,” human being. Too seldom do we realize that we adults are (surprise!) still growing up. People, even adults, are a process.
Consequently, the church is made up of broken, imperfect people who (still) do mighty things through God’s amazing grace. Yet, how often do we embody and extend that grace towards others? I [Joy] don’t encourage poor work ethics, compromising morals, or ignoring our call to holiness. However, the way we respond to our own failures and those of others often creates an environment that is hostile to the growth of the church as a whole.
[Erin] In 2005, Dr. Arch Hart mentioned that understanding the “theology of failure” is one of the components of finishing strong in ministry because in “God’s economy, there isn’t failure, but only forced growth.” Hart goes on to explain that God is not in the business of success: “He never has been and [he] never will be. He is in [the] refining business. He always has been and always will be. Success does not build character, but every single failure is a giant step in God’s refining purpose.”
Unfortunately, the theology of failure works most conveniently when it affects our personal failures (i.e. family, work, ministry, relationships). It helps us “self-soothe” our way to a fuller understanding that we will grow through our trials. However, when others fail, we sneer at them self-righteously, quick to point out every facet of where and how they went wrong. Do we truly mourn with people and share their burdens or have a slithering sense of superiority because a friend has not quite reached our standards? Have we forgotten that the same grace so lavished upon us was and is the same grace we must extend towards others?
How do you handle your personal failures? The failure of others? How often has someone’s finger been shook in your face, indicating that the shame (and blame) is on you? How often have you shook your finger in someone’s face with the very same intent? When you fall short of the world’s expectations, how do you react?
I [Joy] wonder what Christ’s body would be like if, instead of condemning those fallen to failure, we viewed each other and our mishaps as opportunities for growth. I believe both the local and global church would at long last be a safe place for people to be authentic. Imagine that.
We are a fallible people who fall short of others’ expectations all of the time. Usually, it’s our top priority to save face in order to maintain self-respect, preserve dignity, and avoid humiliation. We try hard to save face, but Christ willingly lost face. In fact, he lost everything before the world when he hung on the cross in complete humiliation and defeat, scorned by men. In the eyes of man, he was a failure.
What is he in your eyes?
Christ’s death and resurrection was a painful, glorious, and necessary act of reconciliation. His alleged failure was a miraculous success. When Christ was poured out on the cross, man saw that all dignity had been lost. But our faith in his resurrection ensures our ability to take significant risks in his name. For in Christ, what of eternal value can be lost?
Just like “failing” her way to crawling is the only way Eva will soon see success, we need to be willing to embrace our own failures and the failures of others in order to succeed in being an authentic people. Momentary setbacks in our ministry, mistakes made at home, even misjudgments of each other’s character…get over it. Get on with it and be real. Be compassionate, be forgiving, be gracious, and be wholly his.
As Christ our king lay bare, poured out, and undignified on the cross, so may you be before other believers.