by Sue McLain
Perhaps I’m splitting hairs, but recently I’ve come to the realization that subtle differences can make a large impact on the way we view something or someone. Besides, I’m in good company. Jesus has been known to say, “You have heard it said. But I tell you…” The Pharisees and Sadducees had their own very specific and unmovable understanding of the Law of Moses. (Similar, perhaps, to the political parties of today?) Along comes Jesus with a fresh understanding of the Law, based not on legalism but rather, on character: the Fathers character. Looking at something from a different point of view can radically alter our understanding of it. That’s what happened to me.
Several years ago during pre-service prayer I very clearly heard, “I am not the God of the second chance. I am the God of new beginnings.” It was one of those God moments where I knew that I knew that the Holy Spirit wanted to break through and make a point. It has stayed with me all these years as I’ve struggled to understand what that means and what the implications are in my relationship with Him.
I began by trying to understand the differences between a new beginning and a second chance. After all, aren’t they basically saying the same thing? Don’t both speak of a fresh start?
I found that chance, in its purest form, speaks of fate, the luck of the draw, the roll of the dice. Statistically, it’s 50/50. It’s “…the absence of any cause of events that can be predicted, understood, or controlled.” It is impersonal, detached. That does not sound like the Father. He is anything but impersonal or detached. The very fact that He is a person removes the ‘chance’ factor.
OK what else may chance imply? It can speak of opportunity. For example: a job offer from an old classmate you haven’t seen in years, an investment opportunity from a start-up company, a cancelled appointment giving you the time to catch up on some unfinished business. We are given opportunities every day, and they can be monumental or insignificant. They can be created by us or given to us. They can be purposeful or accidental. They can be relational or impersonal. It’s safe to say, “opportunities happen!” But what does second chance communicate?
A second chance is always given by another. There is history inherent in it. It carries weight or debt. An abusive boyfriend gives his girlfriend a ‘second chance’. The husband gives the alcoholic wife a ‘second chance’. The boss gives the chronically late employee a ‘second chance’. There is a sense of control, authority or dominance. “I give you.” You have the right to choose, yes, but it’s tainted, stained by the past. You did this but I’m going to give you a chance to be different this time. Different according to my rules, according to my expectations. Good or bad, there is baggage in the person giving the second chance and baggage in the one it is being given to.
God, on the other hand, says He as a God of new beginnings. He has said, “I will do a new thing”. According to the law of first mention, creation is foundational to the concept of the God being all about new beginnings. Out of chaos He created something entirely new. It was fresh, clean, and untarnished.
What does that mean for us personally? He rewrites our history, gives us a fresh start. Isn’t that the very definition of adoption? He gives us a new name, a new family? He makes us a new creation! What about forgiveness? He does not hold our sins against us. He chucks them into the sea. He is very intentional, very personal. Condemnation, debt and baggage are not in His vocabulary. He has nothing to do with fate or chance.
Some might say, “What about Jonah? Didn’t he get a second chance? ” My answer to that is ‘no’. God had a mission for Jonah. Jonah had personal issues with that mission. But God had a plan and Jonah was an integral part of it. God is not in a hurry. As Banning Liebscher says, “…the Lord will get me where He wants to get me, when He wants to get me there and how He wants to get me there”. Jonah’s call, the storm, the whale, the prophecy, all of it was part of God’s plan for Jonah and Ninevah. There was no ‘second chance’ involved because God completed His plan just as He intended.
Both second chances and new beginnings give us a do-over. Both are given from relationship. But, they start from completely different places. Second chances start from a place of failure. A new beginning, well, from a clean slate, just as if it never happened.
What if we could truly grasp the freedom and intentionality that comes from a God that gives us new beginnings? Past that is dead and gone, sin that is no longer held in debt against us. Who could we become? How would it change the way we view God? How would it change the way we view each other?