The Bible is full of stories of people who tried and failed or who failed to try. There was Moses. He tried to do something for his people, failed, then spent the next third of his life in self-imposed exile, a fugitive from his own failure.
King David rose from humble beginnings to the place of supreme power and highest privilege. He became the greatest of all the kings of Israel. Yet, at the apex of his power, he fell, both morally and socially.
Elijah was the chief of biblical prophets. He went toe-to-toe with the leading power of his day and came out on top. But after his historic stand, his courage failed and he copped out. He then was filled with self-loathing and got so depressed he isolated himself from others and prayed to die.
There was John Mark. He signed up for Paul’s and Barnabas’s mission trips to the eastern Mediterranean, then backed out part way through. My dad used to say - more times than I cared to hear - “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” But when the going got tough, John Mark quit going and went home.
The biblical illustrations are plentiful. There was the Apostle Paul himself. In his younger days, he had engaged in violent religious persecution. There was the strong man Samson, the miserable prophet Jonah, greedy Zaccheus, and the dying thief on the cross. They all failed. They failed spectacularly, but they all got second-chance opportunities.
Moses, living in self-imposed exile and hindered by personal insecurity, got a second chance. His first attempt to help his people failed miserably, but out of that experience he gained knowledge and received a calling that transformed him into a remarkable leader.
King David was given another chance after his fall. In fact, it was after his failure that his dynasty was established. Elijah, who experienced severe anxiety and depression, once dropped out of public life entirely. Yet he returned to national and international prominence and spiritual usefulness.
John Mark, who abandoned the Apostle Paul when things got tough, also got a second chance. In spite of his woeful first performance, he was enlisted for a second mission. Years later, St. Paul - who once resolutely refused John Mark a place on his team - said that John Mark was “useful” to him in the work of the ministry. John Mark went on to pen the oldest of the biblical Gospels, the Gospel of Mark.
Paul himself got a second chance and never ceased to marvel that he, after the terrible things he had done, was provided opportunities to serve. Jonah and Samson, both of whom failed spectacularly, later succeeded spectacularly. It was not too late even for the thief on the cross.
No one better illustrates the biblical theme of second chances than St. Peter. On the night before Jesus was executed, Peter insisted loudly that he would be true to Jesus, even if everyone else - the other disciples - proved untrue. He insisted he would die before he would deny his master. Yet within the space of a few hours, he had denied Jesus three times.
The Bible tells the story of Peter’s second chance. He not only got another opportunity to serve Jesus on a national and world stage, he even got a chance to do what he failed to do the first time around: Stay true to his master even though it meant dying a martyr’s death.
All these people and more beside received second chances. That was not because of who they were but because of who God is. We may think we don’t deserve a second chance and we’re probably right; but then, we didn’t deserve the first one either. It isn’t about the kind of things we deserve but about the kind of person God is and the kind he wants us to become.
He is not merely the God of the second chance, but of the third and fourth and hundredth and thousandth. This is because God, as revealed by Jesus, is not just concerned that we get into heaven but that we become the kind of people who can thrive there.
Shayne Looper is the pastor of Lockwood Community Church in Branch County, Michigan. Read more at shaynelooper.com.