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FAILURE IS NOT FINAL

FAILURE IS NOT FINAL

By Ted Schroder
http://www.tedschroder.com/failure-is-not-final/
April 15, 2018

Dr. Armand Nicholi, professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School writes that, "What often appears to be the cause of despondency in many today is an awareness of the gap between what they think they ought to be and what they feel they are. That is, there is a discrepancy between an ideal they hold for themselves, and at times think they measure up to, and an acute awareness of how far short they fall from the ideal."

The Bible has a word for this condition: it is one of the words we translate for "sin". The Greek word 'hamartia' means missing the mark, or falling short. It means aiming for something and missing it. It is like lining up your ball on the 18th green. If you sink your putt you will win the match. If you miss it, you lose. You aim, putt ...... and miss! You know the sinking (no pun intended) feeling of failure. It is the word St. Paul uses in Romans 8. It describes failing to keep the commandments (the law of sin and death), failing to live the life God created us to live, failing to live a full, flourishing human life. It is the awareness of the omissions in our life: the things which we have not done which we ought to have done. Its symptoms are feelings of loss: loss of joy and peace, which manifest themselves in free-floating anxiety, and despair. Failure robs us of self-worth. Failure takes away our sense of dignity and value. We feel that we have somehow messed up and are worthless. Failure makes us admit that we are imperfect, which is a hard pill to swallow. It is having to say we are sorry -- which is the hardest word to say.

Anyone who is aware of God's pattern for our lives, of what we are meant to be, by reading the Scriptures, and looking at the life of the perfect Man, Jesus Christ, realizes how far short from that ideal is the reality of our daily life. Our conscience accuses us, our relationships bear witness to misunderstanding, lack of love, insensitivity, and just plain hurtfulness and disappointment. When we look at the world around us we see what people do to one another: greed, selfishness, cruelty and violence stalk the earth. Jesus said that the source of the problem is to be found in the human heart.

This is the human condition. We are all sinners, falling short of God's pattern for our lives. As a result, we suffer from the consequences of sin, which the Bible calls 'death.' Not biological death, which is natural to physical life, but spiritual death, death as the wages of sin, which means separation from God's presence and all that it entails. It is being condemned to live out our lives without the blessing of his presence and purpose. It is to be vulnerable to all that threatens our wellbeing. It is to lose hope in future goodness and happiness. It is to experience a diminishment of life, rather than life in all its fullness.

We attempt to break out of this state by trying hard to live out our lives on God's terms and to achieve success in the world. We want to be the best, to have the best family, to look good and to feel good about ourselves. We try to be good, to do good, to earn praise, to find value in our lives, but all too often our attempts to be good, and to do good, to live up to our expectations either causes pride, and self-deception about our true nature, or else a realization that we still fall short of what we should be.

I found myself in such a state in my teenage years. I knew the commandments, I attended church. I learned about Jesus. I was aware of what a Christian life was supposed to be like. I tried very hard to live up to those ideals. I wanted to be the best person I could possibly be. I wanted to fulfill my potential. But I constantly failed, and disappointed myself. I was consumed by guilt. I rarely seemed to be able to satisfy my parents, my teachers, my coaches, or other significant people in my life. Was it just my low self-esteem, a pattern of family perfectionism, or was it a symptom of the human condition? Why is it that this theme pervades literature which deals with human experience?

I used to have a recurring nightmare that I was falling down a cliff. Not until I discovered that it was an unconscious fear of failure was I able to overcome it.

When dear members of my family died I felt the hand of death upon me. Death seemed to take away from me those who meant more to me than any others. What was the point of life if the people you love disappeared without explanation, and without trace. Where did they go? What was life all about if we are here today and gone tomorrow? Are we condemned to live out our days under a sentence of death, with nothing to look forward to except annihilation and oblivion? But how could that be when life was so full of immediate sensation and significance? There was so much beauty in the world, so much generosity, so much love among friends and family for life to end in extinction.

St. Paul explores all these themes in Romans, and argues that the only remedy for our human condition is the grace of God in Christ. Despite our failure, despite our distance from God, despite our guilt, despite the grip of death upon us, and the evil that comes from within us, St. Paul declares that because of what Christ has done for us and in us, "Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus, the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death," (Romans 8:1,2)

"No condemnation"! Acquitted of all charges! Set free from penal servitude! Rescued from the kingdom of darkness and restored to the realm of light in the presence of the God of love! A man may be condemned when he is guilty of a crime. A building may be condemned when it is considered dangerous. Actions may be condemned because they are reprehensible. But Christ has come to set aside such sentences. We are declared freely pardoned and fully reconciled to God.

The means of this transformation is the power of the Spirit applying the sacrifice of Christ to our life. Try as hard as we might, we cannot effect this transformation by our own efforts to be good. We need a power beyond ourselves to rescue us from our failures and their consequences: guilt, and spiritual death as separation from God.

"We aren't saved from sin's grasp by knowing the commandments of God, because we can't and don't keep them, but God put into effect a different plan to save us. He sent his own Son in a human body like ours -- except that ours are sinful -- and destroyed sin's control over us by giving himself as a sacrifice for our sins. So now we can obey God's laws if we follow after the Holy Spirit and no longer obey the old evil nature within us." (Romans 8:3,4 The Living Bible)

Romans 8 tells us about the power of the indwelling Spirit in the believer to enable us to overcome the grasp of our defective human nature. We are not condemned to live out our lives feeling defeated and despondent about our failings. The Good News, the Gospel, proclaims our Absolution and Deliverance. The chapter ends on a high note of confidence: "Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who is he who condemns? Christ Jesus? No!" (Romans 8:33,34)

The secret of real hope is to appropriate the reality of Christ's conquering sin's control over us. Failure is not final. With the help of the Spirit who lives in us, we can experience joy and peace. Death is defeated. Access to the tree of life is restored to us. We can dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

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