Failure is not a sin, so it should come as no surprise that, in the eyes of men, Jesus wasn’t always an instant success.
Of the 12 disciples that Jesus hand picked, 2 betrayed Him and 1, Judas, was an abject failure.
Of the 5000 people that Jesus taught and fed on the mount, all left.
Jesus was a carpenter for years. You think He always measured every piece of furniture perfectly? You think He never spoiled a project?
If that was the case, He’d be more famous for His carpentry than His ministry.
Jesus wasn’t afraid of being ‘in process’. I once heard a preacher retelling the story of Jesus praying twice for the blind man in Mark 8 and joking: “if Jesus gets to take 2 tries at praying for healing, then I should get at least a dozen!” The good news of the gospel is that we know how the story ends! Jesus always has the final victory. When nothing happened, Jesus prayed again. When His friend Lazarus died, Jesus resurrected him. Yes Jesus went to the cross, but the grave couldn’t hold Him. Onlookers might look at the middle of the story and call it a failure: “Jesus messed up.” But, the truth is that with God a ‘failure’ is a victory in progress.
Our perfect, and yet human, Jesus had those moments… just like we do. Yes, He was without sin, but sin is something we do on purpose; it is a choice to disobey God. Failure is different. Failure is the naturally occurring precursor to victory. It is a symptom of being human.
Jesus was the Son of God, and yet in our modern day world, where our culture demands perfection of us at every turn, it often feels to me that we aren’t half as human as our Jesus was.
He was emotional (Mark 14:34), He was compassionate (Matthew 14:14) and these were the things that drove Him to create a ministry, and a legacy, that upended human history. There were moments in His life that you could call failures, but you’d be wrong. Jesus didn’t shy away from the process because He already knew how the story would end…
One of the great consistencies of my life has been my Dad using my childhood as a sermon illustration. He’s used the stories of my perfectionistic, 7-year-old self, drawing pictures, deciding they weren’t good enough and ripping them up as an example to kids: don’t aim for perfection, aim for progress. I remember doing it. I would get so frustrated that the thing I imagined in my head hadn’t magically formed itself onto the page. I wanted to scream at the paper: “why won’t you do what I want?!”
God demonstrated the opposite in Genesis chapter 2. He and Adam are creating a world together in search of Adam’s perfect companion. God is creating the creatures that populate the world He made, Adam is naming each beautiful creation, but none are quite right as a companion…
“Then the Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper who is just right for him.” So the Lord God formed from the ground all the wild animals and all the birds of the sky. He brought them to the man to see what he would call them, and the man chose a name for each one. He gave names to all the livestock, all the birds of the sky, and all the wild animals. But still there was no helper just right for him.” (Genesis 2:18-20)
There’s two parts to this story that are totally wild. First of all, this is the first time in scripture that we’ve seen God call something “not good”. Everything else He made during this week, He smiled over it and said “it is good.” But, looking at Adam, there was something missing. Eve was absent from His creation and it was definitely “not good”.
God tilts His head at His canvas and says… “I’m not quite happy with this picture… yet.”
Does that blow your mind?! It does mine. God’s creation was still a work in progress. He was being creative!
But, the story gets even wilder. God starts co-creating creatures with Adam and none of them were “just right for him”. NONE of them!
“Hey Son, I made this weird looking thing with a bill and fur and webbed feet. What do you want to name this one?”
“Ooooh! Thanks Papa, I love it! Let’s call it a platypus.”
“Platypus, I like that! You wanna be friends with this one?”
“Nah, that one’s waaaay too weird!” Laughs Adam.
Now, if it were me, after a few hundred species in a row had gotten a big, fat thumbs down, I’d have probably smited something.
ZAP! No more platypus.
God isn’t like that! I can imagine Him chuckling and setting that first, wonky bird-thing free and saying “ok Son, let’s try something else…”
God demonstrated what it looks like to enjoy His own creative process and smiled His way through a string of ‘nope’s to arrive at His second great masterpiece: Eve.
This was the second discovery of the Berkeley study I mentioned last week: creative people know how to play. The objective of play isn’t some vague notion of success, it’s fun! God and Adam co-created a world’s worth of life together. Doesn’t that sound like a blast?! I can imagine the joy the Father felt as He spent time playing with His boy.
The definition of failure is “the absence of success.” But, creativity works best in the context of play and there is no way to play incorrectly. You can’t fail at making something, you just succeed in making something other than what you had envisioned. And, if what you made isn’t the final project that you’re happy with, keep reimagining! Enjoy your temporary “failure” because it’s not really a failure. This is what the process looks like.
The truth is, you’ll never make an Eve if you aren’t willing to laugh at yourself for making a platypus or two.
And who knows, if we allow ourselves a little bit of grace, we might even have a bit of fun while we try to create.