I’ve been thinking about Michael Vick. Not because I’m an Eagles fan. Not because I’m prepping for a fantasy football draft. I haven’t been thinking about issues of animal cruelty. I’m not that interested in whether or not Vick will be an effective football player after a two year absence. The thing that struck me about the events of the last week was the statement made by Philadelphia Eagles’ owner, Jeff Lurie, who is giving Vick another shot in the NFL. He said:
“Yes, there will be people that will be against giving this man a second chance and I understand that. That’s why it’s a soul-searching decision, because I don’t disagree with the feeling of some people don’t deserve a second chance. . . . There is no room for error on Michael’s part. There are no third chances and we know that. That’s the thing, if this isn’t fulfilled the way we expect it to be then that will be the end.”
What struck me about Lurie’s comments was his unhesitating conclusion that there are no third chances. His comments reveal as much about our society as they do about his personal opinions. Generally, American society is forgiving of a first offense (assuming that certain requirements of sincere contrition are met). But, apparently, that is where forgiveness ends. Three strikes (or according to Lurie, two strikes) and you are out.
The good news of the gospel is that we do get second chances and even third chances. The God of the Bible is a second-chance God. And a third chance God. That’s grace. That gives us hope because, let’s face it, we all fail—not just on the first try, but on the second try, and sometimes even on the third try.
In no way does Christianity minimize our failures. Our crimes against God and others are serious. But because Jesus came and died for our sins (all of them—whether or first failure, our second failure, or our hundredth failure), we get another chance. We get that chance because Christ bore the penalty that we deserve. The message of Christianity isn’t that we get it all right on our second try. Rather it is that Jesus got it right for us so it’s okay if we fail a second or third time.
This is shocking, unbelievable, even inappropriate. But that is the message of the Gospel. As someone who has failed to love my wife many times, as someone who keeps failing to treat my kids with gentleness and love, I’m thankful that God is a second-chance God.
So was Peter, one of Jesus’ closest friends, who—you might remember—on the night that Jesus was betrayed, denied and disgraced Jesus not once, not twice, but three times. A few days later, after he had died for Peter’s sins (and for mine, and for yours), Jesus returned Peter and restored him despite his repeated failures. Peter discovered that Jesus’ response to failure is love.
Ah—the wonder of third chances. The wonder of grace.