Messy, messy, messy. Somehow, I spent a majority of my life missing the mess of the stories of the Bible: how God did not use perfect saints, but rather redeemed and worked his handiwork through imperfect people.
In fact, many of the Sunday school heroes of childhood, the people who I was taught to revere for their strength in faith and relentless pursuit of God, have turned out to be sinners just like me. Sure, many of them performed and/or participated in mighty acts of faith and saw God do incredible miraculous things. But they also had some pretty incredible missteps, which makes their behavior all the more surprising.
For example, we can start with Noah. This faithful man built a giant boat in the middle of a vast expanse of land to save humanity and all the animals from a worldwide apocalyptic flood — because God told him to. Though it likely made little sense, he did it, the storm came and the world was wiped out by a flood.
But Noah’s faithfulness brings about the survival of his family and all the animals. They endure the storm and end up back on dry land. He sees an incredible miracle! Then he strips down, gets drunk, and passes out (Genesis 9:21). I somehow missed that last part of the story in Sunday school.
Another example is King David. The young hero, as a small boy, challenges the giant Goliath to a fight in faith because it mocked God. With a slingshot, David brings the giant down. Even later in life, David is called a man after God’s own heart (Acts 13:22). Knowing these things are key points to Old Testament study and David is often considered a hero of our faith.
And yet, he was a rebel and a traitor to his own country when he joined the opposing army (1 Sam 22:2; 1 Samuel 27:12). He slept with another man’s wife (2 Samuel 11:4), and then had her husband killed (2 Samuel 11:15). And those are just a few; if you want to dig there are many more similar stories. The more I dig into David, the more I feel like his life is an R-rated film and not something to teach our kids at church.
Finally, how about Peter? This is a guy who followed Jesus around for three years. He saw Jesus turn water into wine, feed thousands of people with five loaves of bread and two fish, heal the sick and lame, raise the dead, and walk on water. In fact, Peter walked on water, too. But when the time came to stand up for Jesus, Peter failed and denied Him to protect his own skin (Luke 22:54-62).
The interesting part about these heroes of faith is not how much they stood up and walked perfectly toward God, but how badly they failed and God still loved and used them. Noah saved the human race. David is considered a man after God’s own heart, and Jesus was born of the line of David. Peter went on to be one of the founding fathers of the early church and lead many people to find Jesus. So many other characters in the Bible are just like this.
I have learned that God loves and uses imperfect people. He accomplishes incredible things through people of faith for sure, but he also redeems and makes a new creation of the riffraff of society. Jesus came and spent his time with the down and out, and the rejected. He welcomed them with open arms. Strangely, the people He had the most conflict with were the people of religion. Jesus isn’t looking for us to be perfect to come to Him. He comes to us as we are: broken, wandering sinners. Like the stories in the Bible, if we look deeper, it is not the people who are the heroes, but God working in them.
By looking deeper I have learned what true joy and freedom look like. I am redeemed by the actions of Jesus on the cross. The price is paid; the debt is no more. It is not what I do to achieve His acceptance, but instead, His acceptance of me, as I am, that begins changing me from the inside out. I don’t have to be put together and have it all figured out to approach the throne of Jesus. I am welcomed to approach the throne as I am, and then He starts working out the kinks. Yet, I am still the one who needs to approach the throne. He welcomes me and accepts me, but I still need to be the one to respond.
It doesn’t matter where you are in life, or what you have done; you can find acceptance and love in Jesus. That doesn’t mean, however, if you invite Him to take up residence in your soul He won’t do a little house cleaning. But it does mean we have a God who loves His Creation and welcomes us home.
If God can accept these people who did great things and yet had huge failures, then at the very least, there is hope for you and me.
Phil Wiebe is the lead pastor at Lakeview Church in Stansbury Park.