“My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline or be weary of his reproof, for the Lord reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights.” – Proverbs 3:11-12
It doesn’t take Biblical wisdom to see failure as opportunity. That slogan is placarded to Fortune 500 board rooms, the hallways of higher learning, and the locker rooms of pee wee and pro alike. Everyone knows that we all, including, and perhaps especially the most successful, pick up the scars of failure along life’s journey.
Failures, disappointments, and setbacks produce refining and defining moments. Perhaps your elementary school teachers taught you about numerous leaders who met with more than a fair share of failures. These leaders were humble enough to recognize their mistakes and use them as pivotal learning opportunities.
The world’s wisdom that may be gained from failure stops here. It’s like a one loop track you’re supposed to run around repeatedly. But wisdom from the Christian God is like He is offering to guide you on a hike through the forest with scenic views and trail mix. The wisdom gained from failure and disappointment, in a Christian’s perspective, is always set in the context of a fatherly relationship.
Outside of the Christian worldview, mistakes and setbacks can lead to reflection and self-examination. You can learn much about how the world is made, the nature of life, and your own wiring and limitations. But you can never, without a great leap of imagination, believe that the universe is lovingly correcting you with a determined eye towards your eternal growth and good. There’s no relational component involved, no personal touch. There are only the hard, brute facts of reality that you must either see more clearly and learn from, or be doomed to suffer the same results.
And along with the cold, merciless nature of “that’s just the way it is”, you are forced to reckon with the blind whims of fate, which are ever capricious and unappeasable. Lastly, in the midst of learning from a mistake, there’s certainly nothing on the other side “delighting in you”, except perhaps some shallow vision of your own self-delighting ego, who believes there’s a better future version of you.
For the Christian, we have much more. We have God as our Father. He is a God who does not miss a beat. He never sleeps and never overlooks a detail; and He is unwaveringly committed to our good. That means in each and every mistake we make, complete with its painful consequences, God has a full measure of good in store for us, driven by his parental love. What makes this even better news is that, unlike earthly parents, God never disciplines out of petty anger or injured pride.
“We have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live…For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” (Heb 12: 9, 11)
Trying to learn from your mistakes is tiring. You’re already hurting because of the consequences, and now you have to double down and hurt your pride by looking at how you were the problem! What is going to give you energy to not grow tired of this painful growth process? For a Christian, the energy comes from knowing this painful lesson is actually a personal trial given by the One who loves you more completely than the best parent in the world.