We are a people of second chances. Even when it’s hard, we are prone to forgive those who sin against us, hoping that maybe they will treat us differently the next time. We give our children chance after chance after chance to obey (or try again next time). We give those who break the law second chances to live life differently. Second chances, in many ways, are built into our souls. We want them for ourselves and we grant them to others.
Second chances are often God’s means of providing mercy to his people. There does come a point where his mercy is exhausted and he grants judgment, rather than the second chance (Numbers 20, Josh. 7, Acts 5:1-11). But then there are times where he gives repeat circumstances, another chance not only to behave better, but to see his unchanging mercy towards his people. The Israelites got a second chance. They crossed the Jordan River in the same manner they crossed the Red Sea, only through the might and power of God who splits the seas in two. They are sent into the spy out the land, a land that still contained the same terrifying enemies of God. They enter the Promised Land, a land flowing with milk and honey that in many ways resembles Eden, the land that Adam and Eve were cast from after they failed to trust that God had been good to them. The Israelites failed the first test, would they pass the second?
God hasn’t changed and we are still a people in need of second chances.
Having children has been one long struggle for me, ever since our first baby was lost through miscarriage, it’s been difficulty after difficulty for me to bring children safely into the world. My hospital stay and Ben’s difficult birth were another second chance of sorts. God has repeatedly used pregnancy to bring me to the end of myself, to strip me of control. I’ve bucked against his restraints time and again. This time he gave me eyes to see that this was not another sign of his displeasure, but rather another sign of his grace towards me. It was a second chance at a similar circumstance.
So often I am disappointed and frustrated when God gives me a trial that feels familiar. As the difficulty mounts, I find myself facing the same struggles, the same despondency, and the same rush to sin (rather than faith). Why does he keep doing this? I wonder. I must be living in unconfessed sin. He must be trying to get my attention. He must be punishing me for the ways I have failed to trust him. So I try harder. I scour my life for evidence that if I just tweaked things a bit, this trial would never happen again. I would be cured, in a sense.
I’m starting to see that this is not how God works.
Tim Keller talks about this type of response to suffering in his book, Walking with God Through Pain and Suffering. While some people respond to suffering with a sense of self-pity, believing they do not deserve to suffer as they do, others respond with self-doubt, believing that they are the reason for their suffering. Both of these are contrary to the Bible’s answer to suffering. Sure, there are things we do in this life that lead to suffering (he talks about that, too), but more often than not, suffering falls on the just and the unjust (Matt. 5:45).
So often I see suffering (and even just every day difficulty) as a sure sign of God’s displeasure, a sure sign of his lack of love for me. Instead I need to see it as the exact opposite. It’s because he loves me that he gives me second chances to respond in faith. It’s because he loves me that he takes me through trials, so I will see him as all I need, not the stuff I put my trust in. It’s because he loves me that when trials come he might not take them away, but he never will leave me alone to face them.
The repeat instances of suffering that I find myself in are not a sign of God’s judgment. It’s a sign of his grace. It’s as if he is saying to me “Courtney, I love you so much that I’m giving you something familiar, though hard, to remind you that I am God and I will deliver you again.” Each repeat instance of suffering is a chance to trust more faithfully than before, if only I had eyes to see it as love, not wrath.
God is in the business of second chances to remind us that he is the same God yesterday, today, and tomorrow. Second chances are his megaphone of grace, screaming at us “trust me, my child. You’ve been here before. See how I delivered you then? I won’t fail you now.”
I need this perspective when I find myself in repeat trials. Perhaps you do, too.