“Learning to love the bomb” of our past failures

September 1, 2015

Searching_for_bobby_fischerIn my sermon on Sunday, I made reference to a movie from 1993 called Searching for Bobby Fischer. It’s about a child chess prodigy named Josh Waitzkin. I see from Wikipedia that Waitzkin is a real person, so the movie is based on his young life. Bobby Fischer, whose legacy casts a tall shadow over the characters in the movie, even makes appearances throughout the film in grainy stock footage.

In the film, Waitzkin is so good that his opponents only need to make a few moves before he tells them, “You just lost the match.” He was able to anticipate his opponents’ next dozen or so moves, and his own counter-moves, and foresee that his opponent would lose.

I made the point in my sermon that God’s foreknowledge is like that—except he can see in advance all the moves that we will make in our lives—good moves, bad moves, smart moves, dumb moves. And he can see all the moves that he will make in response to us. Except, instead of looking at us and saying, “You lose.” He can say, to those of us who trust in his Son Jesus: “You win. I’m going to make sure that you win!”

As I said on Sunday, I find this idea immensely reassuring because, among other things, it means that our lives can never spin so far out of control that God can’t rescue them and bring them back under control. Then, in God’s providential care, even the mistakes, the foolish decisions, the monumental errors in judgment—indeed, the vilest sins—can be redeemed by God, such that we can look back on them, and the attendant suffering in their wake, and be grateful even for them.

Or can’t we? Am I wrong?

No, I believe we can.

In that recent Stephen Colbert interview that touched me so deeply, he described making peace with the childhood loss of his father and two of his brothers as “learning to love the bomb.” He said, “Boy, did I have a bomb when I was 10. That was quite an explosion. And I learned to love it… That might be why you don’t see me as someone angry and working out my demons onstage. It’s that I love the thing that I most wish had not happened.”

I love the thing that I most wish had not happened.

What profound words! Who besides Colbert has the nerve to speak them out loud? Yet I believe they’re true—and deeply Christian. I would add that we should also learn to love the person who was created, in part, through these things that we most wish hadn’t happened.

I was meeting recently with some friends, one of whom is considering breaking up with his girlfriend of seven years. As you can imagine, he’s feeling pressure from all quarters to fish or cut bait. He said, “I need to figure this out. Because if I decide I need to break up, I’ll already have wasted seven years of my life!”

My friend isn’t a Christian, nor would he have welcomed at that moment a deep theological treatise from me on God’s providence, but I did say, “Well, those years haven’t been wasted.”

Or, I should have said, they don’t need to have been wasted. We have a choice whether to assimilate our past experiences into our present life in a healthy way. And if we have faith in the God revealed in Christ, we have so much incentive to do so! “In all things God works for the good of those who love him, who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).

But all of us, whether we’re Christians or not, can see how our past makes us into the people we are today. For example, I mostly like who I am today—and God knows it took everything in my past to make me this way. I can be grateful, not bitter or angry. I can learn to love the bomb. And learn to love myself more in the process.

2 Responses to ““Learning to love the bomb” of our past failures”

  1. Tom Harkins Says:

    What a difficult issue for me! (As commented in response to a prior post.) It is true that everything “shapes us,” so if the ultimate result is a good thing, maybe we can even be “happy” for those bad things along the way. This is okay for the “mishaps,” but more problematic for the “misdeeds.” I mean I am really in conflict over this point you are making. I think one the one hand you could be right–on the other, should I acknowledge that I could have been even a better “specimen” had I gone straight rather than on detours? “Be not deceived, God is not mocked. For whatsoever a man sows, that shall he also reap.” Should Samson be as happy about how he ended up as Daniel?

    • brentwhite Says:

      It’s not a question of being “as happy” as someone else who was more faithful. It’s a question of gratitude that, indeed, God has used these experiences to shape us into the person we are. Of course our lives could have been better had we made better choices, but we didn’t. Now what do we do with the aftermath? How do we interpret what happened to us? Is our life ruined? No, by God’s grace, we grow into a better people such that we can say, for example, “While I wouldn’t wish this experience on my worst enemy, I’m glad that God used it to [fill in the blank].”

      We may never reach this point. We may remain bitter or angry or guilt-ridden. But I believe God gives us the grace to move on if we’ll accept it.

      I don’t draw as sharp a distinction between “mishaps” and “misdeeds,” simply because sin remains pervasive in our lives, regardless what is happening to us. God is always relating to us, as the late Dallas Willard memorably said, “on the basis of pity.” We don’t cross some threshold at which point our life is now “in the black.” We’re always in debt, always in need of grace and mercy at every moment—even as we are being sanctified.

      At least that’s how I see it. I sound like a good Lutheran right now—like Kierkegaard.


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