“…but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews
and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called,
both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom
of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom,
and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.”
-1 Cor. 1:23-25
“Only the crucified Christ can bring the freedom which changes
the world because it is no longer afraid of death. In his time the
crucified Christ was regarded as a scandal and as foolishness.
Today the church…must return to the crucified Christ in order
to show the world the freedom he offers.”
-Jurgen Moltmann, The Crucified God
According to Frederick Buechner, the resurrection means that “the worst thing is never the last thing.” In Christ’s victory at Easter, sin and death are destroyed, their power is gone, and we are freed in Christ to live new lives that boldly testify to the risen savior. Paul tells his young protege, Timothy, “God did not give us a Spirit of timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.” (2 Tim. 1:7) As Christians we must discipline ourselves to fail well.
I was lucky enough to see Seth Godin give a talk at High Point University recently. Godin is a writer and entrepreneur who has some insight on failure that Christians should take to heart. In a blog post titled “How to Fail” he writes:
“There are some significant misunderstandings about failure…
All of us fail. Successful people fail often, and, worth noting, learn more from that failure than everyone else. Two habits that don’t help:
• Getting good at avoiding blame and casting doubt
• Not signing up for visible and important projects” (1)
Godin pushes us to see that if we aren’t failing, we aren’t trying hard enough. If we are only doing “sure things,” if we are only traveling well-worn paths that we think are guaranteed to work, then odds are we aren’t jumping in with both feet. Like Edison discovering 10,000 ways not to make a light bulb, we make often make breakthroughs only after failing a lot. Like Godin says, successful people fail along with everyone else, but they learn from it more than everyone else, too.
As Christians, we know what God can do with an apparent failure. The cross is still a stumbling block and foolishness to the world because it is shocking that death has been conquered by death, that the moment when it looked like God had failed became the place of God’s greatest triumph. Drawing on images from 1st Peter, Christians have long pondered how Jesus spent Holy Saturday, and prayerfully considered that Jesus was in fact in the realm of the dead reaching out to the righteous in Sheol.
To live in light of the resurrection means that we, too, are free to fail, free to risk, because we know that our efforts are not in vain. We know that we work for a Kingdom that will come, regardless of our faults and failures. We work for a savior who can do marvelous things with shaky disciples and a few loaves of bread.
Thanks be to God.