Finding God when we fail

In 2011 the Coalition Government in Britain defined what they saw as fundamental British values. Schools are now at the forefront of promoting “democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty, and mutual respect and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs.” The values are all important, but are they succeeding in making us more tolerant of other people?

Whilst we all know that others must make allowances for our failings, the standards we demand of others are very high. We don’t tolerate failure. Politicians who fall short must resign. Heads of large organisations, both private and public, must be held to account for the failings of everyone under them. Managers of football teams who do not deliver the success the owners and supporters demand are sacked. Yet all who resign, or are sacked, are replaced by equally fallible people!

Jesus gave special encouragement to those who had failed. He was severely criticised, and ultimately condemned to die, by self-righteous, hypocritical religious leaders. They were extremely intolerant of those who failed to keep the man-made rules they had imposed. But people who knew they had failed by breaking God’s commands were drawn to Jesus. He gave them hope of forgiveness and a new beginning.

Jesus told them a story to show what God, his heavenly Father, is really like. He is wonderfully gracious and offers us a second chance when we seriously fail and mess up. In the story a son rebelled against his father, took his share of the family inheritance and went to a distant country where he threw himself into wild living. He denied himself no pleasure but soon spent all his money and was struggling to survive. Then he came to his senses and realised he had to go back to his father and admit that he had sinned against him and against God.

While he was still a long way off, his father saw him coming. Filled with love and compassion, he ran to his son, embraced him, and kissed him. His son said to him, “Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, and am no longer worthy of being called your son.” But his father said to the servants, “Quick! Bring the finest robe in the house and put it on him. Get a ring for his finger and sandals for his feet and kill the fattened calf. We must celebrate with a feast, for this son of mine was dead and has now returned to life. He was lost, but now he is found.”

The God of second chances

On 11 June Vincent Uzomah, a supply science teacher at a school in Bradford, was stabbed with a kitchen knife by a 14 year old pupil. Vincent was very seriously injured and was afraid he was going to die. The boy had racially abused Vincent and had told his school friends he was going to kill him. After the attack the boy put a post on Facebook saying what he had done and 69 people said they “liked” his post. The boy has been given an 11-year sentence and Vincent may never return to a classroom.

After the trial Vincent said, “As a Christian I have forgiven this boy who has inflicted this trauma and pain on me and my family. Our prayer for him is that he will make use of the opportunities and support that will be provided to him to become a changed person who will make a positive contribution to society.” People like Vincent shine light into our dark world.

Why could Vincent speak of forgiving a young man who so obviously hates him? Hatred and revenge are the normal human responses to those who mistreat us; forgiveness is rare. Vincent is able to forgive the boy because he himself has experienced God’s forgiveness. He became a Christian when he realised his own sinfulness before a holy God and acknowledged that God could justly condemn him for all the sins he has committed. He confessed his sin to God and asked for forgiveness. He also put his trust in Jesus Christ, God’s Son, who died on the cross to pay the price of his sins. Vincent experienced the amazing love of God and found forgiveness and new life in Jesus. Every day Vincent continues to need forgiveness and prays, “Forgive us our trespasses and we forgive those who trespass against us.”

Vincent’s experience of God’s love and grace in Jesus has also taught him that God is a God of second chances and new beginnings. No matter what we have done, God is able to change us from the inside and give us a new heart. That is why Vincent and his wife are praying for the boy during his time in custody. He, too, can experience God’s forgiveness and find new life in Jesus. This offers real hope to us all in our daily struggle with our sinful hearts and ways. God’s promise in Jesus is, “I will forgive their wickedness and I will never again remember their sins.”

Finding forgiveness

One evening in May 2003 a safety camera on the M11 recorded a speeding offence. Nearly 10 years later the man who was driving and his wife, who was not, are in prison for perverting the course of justice. The original offence would have attracted a £60 fine and possible disqualification for the driver. The attempt to get away with it has led to prison sentences for two people.

The case of Chris Huhne and Vicky Pryce makes very sad reading. Vicky agreed to say that she was driving when the speeding offence took place so that Chris would avoid a driving ban and succeed in his attempt to become an MP. For seven years it seemed as if they had got away with it until, in summer 2010, Chris told Vicky that he was leaving her to live with another woman. Vicky, who was deeply hurt by Chris’s unfaithfulness, decided to get revenge by leaking the story to the press. She intended to wreck his political career but had not anticipated that she, too, would be implicated.

In the book of Genesis we are told about the first sin. God created Adam, and his wife, Eve. They lived in a beautiful garden. Adam worked in the garden and he and Eve were free to eat from all the trees except one, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. One day they disobeyed God’s command and this had devastating consequences for them and for us all. When God confronted them with their disobedience Adam blamed Eve, and Eve blamed the serpent who had deceived her. Their sin affected their happy relationship with God and with each other.

We are all tempted to try to get away with the wrong things we have done rather than to face them and seek forgiveness. Because we do not immediately face God’s judgement we assume that our sinful actions don’t matter, but one day we will all be called to account for what we have done. When God sent Adam and Eve from his presence he gave them a promise that one day a Saviour would come who would reverse the tragic events of Eden. Jesus Christ is that Saviour. On the Cross he took our place and suffered the punishment we deserve. God’s promise to each of us is that if we confess our sins to him and trust in his Son as our Saviour our open and our secret sins will all be forgiven.