The God of the second chance

November 5th, 2015

In the movie Forrest Gump, after Forrest returns home from Vietnam, he travels to New York to visit his former commander, Lieutenant Dan. Dan is in a wheelchair from having lost both his legs in a firefight during the war. He is angry, bitter and drinking heavily. Forrest, the dutiful friend that he is, stays with Dan awhile just spending time with him and putting up with Dan's angry behavior that is sometimes directed toward Gump.

There's a scene in the movie where Forrest is celebrating New Year's Eve with Lt. Dan in a bar. Two women friends (of questionable character) show up to celebrate with them. As Forrest is watching Dick Clark usher in the new year from Times Square on the TV behind the bar, one of the women says to Forrest with her New York accent, "Don't you just love New Year's? You can start all over."

Somewhere in the midst of all of Bishop William Willimon's writings (I don't remember where. I have read much of what the good bishop has written over the years) he suggests that the reason the Reverend Billy Graham has had such an appealing message over the years, and why he has been able to pack stadiums filled with people, is that in preaching the gospel he has proclaimed the God of the second chance. That is, Graham's core message in every crusade is that no matter what we have done, no matter how bad things are, no matter how much of a mess we have made in our lives and even in the lives of those around us, God is always willing, if we are willing, to give us a second chance — an opportunity to start over.

If there is one complaint I have about much Protestant worship today it's that too many churches do not have a time for corporate confession on Sunday morning. Living in the "I'm OK, you're OK culture," insulating our bad behavior with a "no one has a right to judge me" mentality and dealing with the kind of sickening shallow and sentimental self-esteem movement of much current pop psychology, too many churches have bought into the feel-good gospel to the point where in our worship we can't even take time to confess corporately: 

Merciful God,
we confess that we have not loved you with our whole heart.
We have failed to be an obedient church.
We have not done your will,
we have broken your law,
we have rebelled against your love,
we have not loved our neighbors,
and we have not heard the cry of the needy.
Forgive us, we pray.
Free us for joyful obedience,
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

As H. Richard Niebuhr wrote in his assessment of mainline Protestant theology: "A God without wrath brought men without sin into a Kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a Cross." But it's not just mainline liberalism which is so correctly judged. Much evangelical theology has now tripped over the same stumbling block.

Here's the point. We cannot know that our God is the God of the second chance without realizing that we are sinners in need of one. My take on this as a pastor for thirty-plus years is that most people know that they are indeed in need of a second chance … and a third and a fourth. Yes, there are some who aren't so self-aware, but the church of Jesus Christ does its worshipers a great disservice when we don't allow for moments of confession and the opportunity to embrace the second chance that God truly wants to give to us.

As the old revivalist adage goes: We can't know how wonderful the Good News is until we've heard the bad news. The bad news is that we need a second chance; the good news is that in Jesus Christ, God stands ready to give us one if we reach out in faith and repentance and accept it.

Don't you just love the gospel? You can start all over!

Allan Bevere blogs at

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