An Escape from Failure Culture
We live in a day in which fanboys of failure hawk the Internet with clever memes and GIFs to immortalize the momentary slips of public figures. We are gluttons for goofs and gaffs. We lust for mistakes and slap our knees at the failures of others.
Last night, at the culminating moment of an international beauty pageant, celebrity host Steve Harvey made a mistake at a critical moment. He read the name of the first runner up as if she had won the crown. However, like any responsible person would, he rectified the situation and took complete responsibility, resisting the urge to shift the blame. “I have to apologize.” But it did not end there. Our infatuation with failure couldn’t let it stop there. His Wikipedia page has already been updated.
We know what comes next, don’t we? Uploads, views, Photoshop, and all the critical cackling that follows — and yes, the SNL skit to come. Our facades on social media, auto tune, lip syncing, and Hollywood worldviews have inevitably cultivated a failure culture. Failure culture is one that stampedes to mimic and mock the failures of others, yet is unwilling to deal with our own. Failure culture has little to say about consistent, faithful, regular performances but has the most to blab about the bloopers.
What if Steve Harvey perfectly executed his hosting expectations? What if everything went according to plan? We would not applaud his announcement or recognize his achievements with the same intensity.
But there is something within us that feels better when we gaze at the wrinkles and cracks of others, especially public figures. We feel better that someone else’s performance is on the chopping block instead of our own. I get it. I feel the urge to join in the mockery. It is much easier to laugh at others’ inconsistencies than crucially evaluate my own. Steve Harvey messed up at a pageant on the big stage in an important moment, but what about my more significant mess-ups in parenting? Or my consistent shortcomings as a husband? The truth is that looking at celebrity flaws from a distance through the telescope of television and the Internet is much easier than examining my heart through the microscope of God’s word.
Perhaps I’m overreacting to pushback on all the fun. Maybe Steve Harvey is just a comedian who finally has reaped what he has sown for so many years. You make fun of people for a living, now it’s your turn to be made fun of. Karma. But what if there was something better than the karma and failure culture?
Of all the biblical characters, I identify most with Peter. Not because he healed people, preached amazing sermons, or ended up dying for the gospel. Those are accolades I cannot achieve in my own strength. I like Peter because he was, well, such a manifest failure. Peter was known to give wrong answers and reactions. He was prone to momentary miscues. He was short on faith and high on failure. One time, he even sank when God had given him divine favor to walk on water. At a critical moment, he said to Jesus, “Never, Lord.” He cut off a soldier’s ear, and denied Jesus three times on the eve of the crucifixion.
You would think Jesus would disqualify Peter. Instead, Jesus brings him back and restores Peter with grace. When Jesus rises from the dead, the angel tells Mary, “Go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee” (Mark 16:7).
Did you catch that? Peter — mentioned by name — is a failure receiving grace from the Lord of the universe. Grace culture is a culture endorsed by Jesus —the culture we should have in the church. Jesus takes our sins, failures, mistakes, shame, and in exchange gives us his lavish favor. When we fail, our self righteousness tells us we just need a second chance. But grace is much better.
Our countless failures against God deserve death and come from deep within our nature. We sin because we are sinners, and we will never reach perfection because we are finite. And we can never make up for our imperfections in the past. But Jesus gives us something better than a second chance; he becomes our substitute (2 Corinthians 5:21). Now, instead of finding joy in our own mythical perfection, we can find joy in Jesus’s grace when we mess up.
The Perfect Host
I find something beautiful in last night’s debacle. God can make a mockery of our attempts for flawless pageantry and demonstrate he is the only one worthy to wear the crown. But it doesn’t stop there. In Christ, he gives us that crown. Jesus gives us his righteous life in exchange for our guilt, shame, and sin. Christians can have solid, secure, and foundational joy in that.
In Christ’s grace, there is no first runner up, there are no crowns taken away, and there are no more scorecards. We have a perfect host that speaks righteousness over us by our unbreakable union with him, the righteous one. He declares us to be secure in our position as sons and daughters.
The pressure is off to be perfect, no matter how big the stage. We only need to own our weakness and utter reliance on God’s grace to empower us to be increasingly like his Son.
O, what joy is in the gospel to be free from a failure culture! O, what joy there is to know we have a substitute even when we blow our second chances. Steve Harvey, please understand this: There is a place where mistakes aren’t fatal. Failure isn’t final. Grace is forever. Good news, everyone: There is grace for failures — not in the news media, but in the risen Lord of the universe.