I received a heartbreaking message yesterday.
A mother told me about her son who had committed a crime and is currently serving a prison sentence until 2020. Even though her son now knows Jesus, the nature of his crime has consequences that will extend long beyond when he is released from prison.
Because of this, the son often feels hopeless about the rest of his life. As if there is nothing for him in the future – no hope, no joy, only bleak wasteland. They both know that there is hope in trials when those trials come from external circumstances (a tragedy, persecution, etc.), but what about trials brought on by our own stupid, sinful decisions?
Does the Bible give us hope for those situations? Can we be optimistic when it seems that we’ve “ruined” our lives?
This is a heavy question, pregnant with grief and tears. I can’t imagine the difficulty of being in this situation.
I can say, however, that the Bible offers not just some hope for those who have screwed up their lives, but great hope. In fact, I believe that much of scripture is written exactly for those who find themselves in this situation.
Unfaithful People, Faithful God
Scripture is packed with stories of people making incredibly stupid, sinful decisions. And we’re not just talking about wicked pagans who have no relationship with God. We’re talking the heroes of the faith.
Abraham was called by God to leave his home and go to a strange land. God repeatedly promised to make a great nation from him and his offspring.
And yet despite these repeated promises, Abraham consistently made incredibly foolish, sinful decisions. Multiple times, he pretended Sarah was his sister so that he would not be executed by jealous kings. By doing this, he “jeopardized” the promises of God.
And yet, again and again, God was faithful Abraham, rescuing him, protecting him, doing good to him, and fulfilling his promises. If the promises of God hinged on Abraham’s obedience, Isaac would have never been born and the hope of a New Covenant would have been dashed.
For most of his adult life, Jacob was a deceiver who thrived on manipulating other people. He tricked his dying dad, stole his brother’s blessing, and then fled so that he wouldn’t be murdered. He wasn’t a righteous, godly guy. And yet God wrestled with him and ultimately changed his name to Israel.
Joseph was a bratty braggart whose boasts got him thrown into a well and ultimately imprisoned in Egypt. Yet God eventually rescued him and used him to preserve the people of Israel through a famine.
David, God’s chosen king and man after God’s own heart, committed murder and adultery. And yet out of his sin, Solomon was born, the temple was built, Proverbs and Song of Solomon were written, and ultimately Christ was born from his line.
Peter vigorously, passionately denied that he ever knew Jesus. Yet Jesus didn’t abandon him. When he rose from the dead, the angels told the women to tell the disciples and Peter that Jesus had risen. Later in his life, Peter fell victim to legalism and essentially denied the gospel a second time. And yet the Lord used Paul to restore him to fellowship.
Before knowing Christ, Paul took great delight in hunting down and murdering Christians. He looked on in approval as Stephen was stoned to death. Then God hunted him down, knocked him off his horse, and saved him.
The Bible is NOT the story of godly heroes accomplishing great things. Rather, it’s a tale of broken, sinful people being constantly rescued by a faithful God. If God’s goodness, blessings, or faithfulness depended on human righteousness or obedience, we’d all be doomed.
Scripture makes it really clear that people are unfaithful and God is always faithful, and that’s extraordinarily good news.
We Can’t Mess Up God’s Purposes or Plans
Our sins can’t thwart God’s purposes for us or promises to us. Yes, our sins have consequences. If I commit adultery and then repent, there will still be lots of pain and grief to deal with.
But God IS faithful, and even my own willful sins can’t turn aside God’s faithfulness. He has promised that mercy and goodness will follow me all the days of my life (Psalm 23:6).
He has promised that I will wake every morning to new mercies (Lamentations 3:23).
He has promised that he will finish the good work he began in me (Philippians 1:6).
Neither height nor depth, angels or demons, life or death can separate me from the love of God in Christ. I have a future and a hope and even my own sin can’t break God’s love or promises.
Yes, some of these promises will ultimately be fulfilled in eternity, but these are also here and now promises. David was confident he would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living (Psalm 27:13).
Honestly, if these promises didn’t exist, I would despair.
I’m not confident that I’ll always make wise, godly decisions. I know both the sin and stupidity that reside in me. I need a hope that goes far beyond me, and I have that hope in Christ. Because I’m united to Christ, I always have great hope for now and the future.
Trials are brutal. They break us and squeeze the life from us. But God is present, he is faithful, he is good, and there is much hope for the future.
So to the mother and son, I would say what Aslan said to Lucy when she was surrounded by impenetrable darkness: “Take courage dear heart.”
Or perhaps the words of Psalm 27:14 are more appropriate:
Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!