This post is by my friend, Allan Bevere.
The God of the Second Chance
“Don’t you just love New Year’s? You can start all over.”
In the movie, Forrest Gump, after Forrest returns home from Vietnam, he travels to New York to visit his former commander, Lt. Dan. Dan is in a wheelchair from having lost both his legs in a firefight during the war. He is angry and bitter and drinking heavily. Forrest, the dutiful friend that he is, stays with Dan awhile just spending time with him and putting up with Dan’s angry behavior that is sometimes directed toward Gump.
There’s a scene in the movie in which Forrest is celebrating New Year’s Eve with Lt. Dan in a bar. Two women friends (of questionable character) show up at the bar to celebrate with them. As Forrest is watching Dick Clark on the TV behind the bar, usher in the new year as the ball drops on Times Square, one of the women says to Forrest in her New York accent, “Don’t you just love New Year’s? You can start all over.”
Somewhere in the midst of all of Bishop William Willimon’s writings (I don’t remember where. I have read much of what the good bishop has written over the years) he suggests that the reason the Reverend Billy Graham has had such an appealing message over the years, and why he has been able to pack stadiums filled with people, is that in preaching the gospel he has proclaimed the God of the Second Chance. That is, Graham’s core message in every crusade is that no matter what we have done, no matter how bad things are, no matter how much of a mess we have made in our lives and even in the lives of those around us, God is always willing, if we are willing, to give us a second chance, an opportunity to start over.
If there is one complaint I have about much Protestant worship today is that too many churches do not have a time for corporate confession on Sunday morning. Living in the “I’m OK, you’re OK culture,” insulating our bad behavior with a “no one has a right to judge me” mentality, and dealing with the kind of sickening shallow and sentimental self-esteem movement of much current pop psychology, too many churches have bought into the feel good gospel to the point where in our worship we cannot even take time to confess corporately, “We have failed to be an obedient church, we have not done your will, we have broken your law, we have not loved our neighbors, and we have not heard the cries of the needy. Forgive us, we pray, and free us for joyful obedience.” As H. Richard Niebuhr wrote in his assessment of mainline Protestant theology– “A God without wrath brought men without sin into a Kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a Cross.” But it’s not just mainline liberalism which is so correctly judged. Much evangelical theology has now tripped over the same stumbling block.
Here’s the point– we cannot know that our God is the God of the Second Chance without realizing that we are sinners in need of one. My take on this as a pastor for thirty plus years is that most people know that they are indeed in need of a second chance and a third and a fourth…. Yes, there are some who are not so self-aware, but the church of Jesus Christ does it’s worshipers a great disservice when we do not allow for some moments of confession and, therefore, the opportunity to embrace the second chance that God truly wants to give to us.
As the old revivalist adage goes– we cannot now how wonderful the Good News is until we have heard the bad news. The bad news is that we need a second chance; the good news is that in Jesus Christ, God stands ready to give us one, if we reach out in faith and repentance, and accept it.
Don’t you just love the gospel? You can start all over!