Vulnerability, Failure, and Resurrection

Vulnerability, Failure, and Resurrection

Abandoning our fear of failure allows us to live freely in the hope His resurrection brings.

Failure is one of the few experiences that we all have in common. All of us are bound to fail at some point. While the attempt to prevent failure is wise, the illusion that we can control all the variables is foolish. Failure is a human reality. Wisdom recognizes that openness to failure is one of the most common pathways to growth, renewal, and re-creation. Holiness—participating in Christ’s love by the Spirit—is the freedom to live in the discomfort of risk, trusting the creative and sustaining work of the Spirit to accompany us in our failures and lead us toward resurrection, even in the most difficult circumstances.

We all desire to avoid failure. It’s natural. Institutions perform cost-benefit analyses to determine if a new initiative is worth the risk. In the heat of a looming decision, individuals weigh pro and con lists. The shame that accompanies personal and institutional failure creates lasting muscle memories in our consciousness, training us to count the cost, to play it safe, and to fear the unknown.

However, unhealthy fear of failure leads to a lack of trust that can squelch the Spirit’s ability to create fresh possibilities in our midst, the most powerful of which is resurrection.  

Jesus, the Vulnerable Messiah

In the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus pondered His anticipated cup of suffering, begging the Father to take it from Him if possible (Matt. 26:36-46). In the abandonment of Himself, He became vulnerable to the tragic consequences of human sin and brokenness by becoming identified with them (Rom. 8:3). Humanity placed its cup of suffering upon the Messiah, and He freely received it. The crucifixion of Jesus is a tragedy – a tragedy into which Jesus consciously entered.

The long-awaited Messiah’s dramatic mission seemed to end as a colossal catastrophe – a failure (Acts 7:52)! Jesus met the tragedy of the cross by letting go and choosing to trust the Spirit to accompany Him into death. As a result, Jesus freely abandoned His fears, His anxious weighing of the variables, and trusted the Spirit, even in death.

Jesus did not need to be anxious about His mission being successful because He depended on the Spirit for its success.

His willingness to submit to death led to an unforeseen victory, the expansion of God’s kingdom and the inclusion of the Gentiles.

Failure and the Hope of Resurrection

We as the people of God are invited into Christ’s death and resurrection (Rom 6:4). We trust the Spirit to accompany us into a fruitful future, even when our mission seems doomed to fail. The Gospel invites Christ’s body into a vulnerable future. The people of God have abandoned the need for a predictable future by joining Jesus in identifying with those who are broken and suffering. In doing so, we open ourselves up to suffering and even failure.

The resurrection of Jesus is God’s concrete testimony that He accompanies His people into the depths of their fears and despairs and failures. Resurrection is not a one-time historical event. Resurrection is the infinite act of God to restore, renew, and re-create human failure, disappointment, and suffering into newness, beauty, and delight. God casts this vision for His people in the book of Isaiah: “…For as the days of a tree, so will be the days of my people; my chosen ones will enjoy the work of their hands.

They will not labor in vain, nor will they bear children doomed to misfortune; for they will be a people blessed by the LORD, they and their descendants with them” (65:22-23).

Hope for the people of God is not a naïve optimism that all things will eventually work out for personal gain, or that everything “happens for a reason.” Hope trusts that the testimony of Christ’s resurrection is a concrete revelation of God’s promised future dwelling in our history. [1]

Jacob Lett is Assistant Professor of Theology at MidAmerica Nazarene University.

[1]David Bentley Hart, The Doors of the Sea: Where was God in the Tsunami? (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005); Eugene Rogers, After the Spirit: A Constructive Pneumatology from Resources outside the Modern West (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005).

Holiness Today, Mar/Apr 2018