Painful Mistakes Can Begin a Sacred Journey

Blog / Produced by The High Calling
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One of the things I like most about the Bible is the motley and flawed collection of characters that populate its pages. There can be no doubt that we share a common humanity with them.

Here is Noah, lying drunk in his tent and having a conniption fit when his son walks in and sees him naked. There is Abraham fooling around with handmaidens and sacrificing his wife’s honor to protect his own skin. Jacob is one of my favorites, wheeling and dealing, conning people out of everything from birthrights to baby goats.

It’s all there, humanity on display in the pages of scripture: Samson’s vanity, David’s lust, Solomon’s greed, Jonah’s racism, Herod’s bloodlust, Thomas’ doubts, and Paul’s sermons—so boring that once a young man fell asleep while Paul was preaching and fell out of a top story window.

But if rank humanity fills the Bible’s pages, so does miraculous redemption. Cowards, thieves, and rogues are forgiven and redeemed. And a part of their salvation is the redeeming of their past mistakes.

The ninth chapter of I Samuel tells the story of the anointing of the first king of Israel. His name was Saul, and about the only thing you could say about him was that he was taller than most and exceedingly handsome. God didn’t want them to have a king at all, but they demanded it. So He gave them the only kind of man they could imagine for the job—tall, dark, and handsome.

Years later, Saul proved to have serious character flaws, a common enough problem for people who rely on beauty to get them by. At that time, God called Samuel to anoint a new king. This time he was sent to a sleepy little town called Bethlehem, to the house of Jesse, a man with eight sons.

When seven of the boys were paraded before him, Samuel almost made the same mistake again. He thought the oldest boy was the one for the job because he was tall and had a kingly appearance. Then the word of the Lord came to Samuel:

Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart. 1 Samuel 16:7 (NRSV)

Behold, none of the seven was chosen. When Samuel asked if there were any more boys, the eighth son was brought to him. He was the youngest and least likely; his name was David.

And you know the rest of the story. Bethlehem became known as the city of David, and some years later another important boy was born there. Samuel’s wisdom, gained from past mistakes, played a critical role in the unfolding of God’s ultimate purpose.

Mistakes made in our pasts can seem crippling. Sometimes we wonder if a past event has ruined our future. But it need not be that way.

Samuel’s ability to listen to God came in part from his having first lived with the wrong kind of king. If our mistakes soften our hearts and better prepare us to seek wisdom in the future, then even those mistakes are redeemed; they become a part of our sacred journey and God’s continuing story.