Written by Juan Dugan, D.Min. – Worship Leader
Sometimes we make mistakes. There are the small mistakes, like being late for a meeting or missing a typo in a blog post. These can be embarrassing but aren’t a big deal. Then there are the BIG mistakes: moments when you let someone down or moments of complete failure that you would give anything to undo. Dealing with big mistakes can be difficult, and it often feels like they’ll haunt you forever. How do we deal with these moments in our own lives? How should we handle it when we are confronted with the failures of others?
Perhaps one of the best examples in scripture regarding failure comes from the story of Josiah in 2 Kings 23:25. This verse is the epitaph of a king written after his greatest moment of failure. I consider it to be one of the most inspiring verses in the Old Testament because it reveals how God views those who make mistakes, and it can teach us how to avoid the big failures in our own lives.
The context is this: Judah (the southern kingdom of Israel after the country split) had been plagued with poor leadership for quite some time. Josiah’s grandfather was among the worst of them, leading the country away from God and towards the worship of false idols, even to the point of supporting human sacrifices. Thankfully, Josiah was nothing like his grandfather. He became king when he was 8 years old, and he quickly put an end to idol worship. He returned the kingdom to the worship of Yahweh, reinstated the Passover, and truly cleaned up the chaos left by his ancestors. He was also an amazing political leader who kept his people safe from the attacks of several other invading nations. The Bible sums up his life like this:
“25 Never before had there been a king like Josiah, who turned to the Lord with all his heart and soul and strength, obeying all the laws of Moses. And there has never been a king like him since.”
What makes this story remarkable is that even though Josiah is considered the best king who ever lived, his last act on earth was to fail God. 2 Chronicles 35 tells how Josiah decides to go to war against Egypt on behalf of the Babylonians. Before the war begins, the pharaoh of Egypt tries to stop the conflict by telling Josiah,
“I have no fight with you or your people. I am fighting with the Babylonians because I am following the direction of God himself. God has told me to do this, so stop opposing God, or he will destroy you.”
Josiah chooses to ignore the pharaoh’s warning and subsequently dies in the ensuing battle. So why does the Bible still list him as the greatest king whom ever lived? It’s because of this: God does not judge us by our failures.
In today’s world, we are so quick to turn on someone when they fail, discounting every other good thing they have ever done. Sometimes we even turn on ourselves, assuming that one failure defines us forever. In other cases, we hold people accountable for actions taken by members of their family or social circles. But the life of Josiah teaches that we are more than the worst decision we have ever made. We are all more than the sum of our failures.
God doesn’t define us by our deficiencies. He defines us by the totality of who we are, viewed through the forgiveness and grace granted to us by the love of Jesus Christ. God is not a God of condemnation. He is in the business of restoring people through love. When we define someone by his or her failures, we are rejecting the grace of God. We must allow others, and ourselves, the freedom of forgiveness. This is not excusing sinful actions; it is recognizing that through Christ, we are no longer defined by our sins. We are defined by our efforts to draw closer to the Lord by offering Christ our hearts, our souls, and our strength, just like King Josiah.