Written by Jonathan Toccoli

11/1/2017

A God Who Only Uses Second Chances


(Scriptures to Meditate on Before, During or After: Deuteronomy 34; Leviticus 19:1-2; 1 Thessalonians 2:1-8)

I was often a rotten little kid. Not that I was especially bad or wayward, I was just rotten. I enjoyed when other kids got into trouble and would bring about punishment for them as often and with as much skill as I could, especially for my sister.

She was three years my younger and was as bratty as bratty could be (according to my six year old self, remember). But I knew how to get even. I couldn’t do it too often or my parents would wise up, which made it tricky. But if I did it well, it made my week at my sister’s expense. That is, until one day.

It was simple, really. Just a form of tattling, but a highly specialized, subtle form. Question: Would my sister get in trouble if she did something bad? Probably. If I told? Almost never. So here was the problem: I couldn’t push her under the bus since my parents didn’t punish based on tattling and if they did, my sister would pull me under with her. So I had to convince her, when the time was just right, to toss herself down in front of it.

I would wait until a couple of days after she did something wrong; if she got into trouble without me, so much the better. If she did not, I would bring up a conversation with my mom, in front of my sister, about a tangential issue to what my sister did. For example, if my sister took candy and ate it when she wasn’t supposed to (I was 6 and she 3, of course), I would ask my mom why I couldn’t have as much candy as I wanted. She would explain and I would listen. Then I would—and here’s the super sneaky part—I would tell my mom about a time I ate more candy than I should have. She would be overjoyed by my honesty. I mean, which parent wouldn’t? But then my sister, jealous of my positive attention, would pipe up and BAM!, she got punished. She didn’t do it humbly or of her own accord, so her speaking up was seen as what it was: jealousy. And my parents didn’t reward that.

I know, I know: I am a horrible person. My sister has told me countless times.

You see, I’ve got this disease I can’t shake
and I’m just rattling through life
– Frightened Rabbit

The day it changed, the day my trick no longer worked is rather remarkable. You might think my sister finally learned how to keep her mouth closed in times like that. Nope; not even to this day. Ok, you think, maybe she reformed her little-heathen-6-year-old ways. Wrong again; she was still a viper-(no-longer)-in-diapers. What she learned, though, was this: she learned to confess her own wickedness. And this she did by following my example!

Can’t you just see it? A little 3 year old sister watching her older brother willingly tell his mom what he had done wrong and think, ‘wow, I want to be like that.’ And then beginning to do so herself. Never realizing it was a rouse, never realizing that, on my side, it was all totally calculated. But so it was. My deception, my rotten-older-brother-ness, paved the way for my sister to learn how to be honest and to not hold guilt inside. I was trying to trap her, but she found how to be free.

Is this not the story of Jonah in a nutshell? Disgruntled, hate-filled prophet refuses his calling and only reluctantly goes to preach a message of despair (3:4) to the people he hates, but the people hear the message and turn to God. And so often that’s the way of our lives. We mean poorly, but God works wonders.

This is indeed how things really do work in the Great World for which our nature is made.
– Tolkien

This turning of evil into good, is as gospel as gospel. J.R.R. Tolkien, the pipe-smoking, hobbit-loving professor who wrote The Lord of the Rings, even came up with a word to describe it: eucatastrophe. Eucatastrophe is, we might say, the mirror opposite of ‘catastrophe,’ which is the sudden emergence of evil or pain or simply ‘bad.’ Eucatastrophe, on the other hand, is the sudden and unexpected change from evil to good, from sad to happy, from death into life. In a great story, the moment of eucatastrophe will make you weep; in life, it will save your soul.

For the pagans of Nineveh, Jonah’s message was a moment of eucatastrophe: the message of destruction brought them life. But this is just a pattern that already existed in Jonah’s life. When he was dying, drowning in the sea, he was saved through, um, a sea monster. Yet while he was food in the belly of that beast, he found repentance which lead to God sparing his life. This pattern, though, is just one we saw in Abraham’s life when he was about to sacrifice Isaac in Genesis 22 but God sent his angel to spare Isaac’s life. But this, though, is just the pattern we saw in Adam and Eve’s lives when they were promised deliverance through their offspring when they should have only found death (Genesis 3:15). Are we surprised, then, that this is also the pattern we find in Jesus’ life when though dead, he lived again? According to Tolkien, this, the resurrection of Jesus, is the true eucatastrophe from which all the others gain their meaning since it is by this one sudden change of evil into good that means evil cannot win forever.

So it is, God works good where we meant evil. Are you Jonah or are you Nineveh? Either way, God has something good in store for you.

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Jonathan is Vice Principal at Jim Elliot Christian High School and leads the Lincoln Village CG with his wife, Emily. While he is a fourth generation Stocktonian, he’s spent 7 of the last 9 years in Chicago working on a couple graduate degrees. Now that they’ve re-relocated to Stockton, he says he loves standing outside in the sun in January and lazing with his dogs. He also really, really enjoys espresso.