Recently I spoke with a group of young people on the topic of making decisions. Wanting to provide comfort for anyone there who might be struggling with having made less than ideal choices, I suggested that in the presence of Divine Love there are no bad decisions. The audience didn’t buy it. In their feedback, they said it was problematic to say that. It gave me a lot to think about, and I realized that maybe part of my message needed improvement.
Human experience is rarely consistently neat and tidy. If things are messy, this is not an indication of anything being wrong with us. In this realm of existence, mistakes do happen. It’s how we respond and move forward that makes all the difference.
I have a fair amount of firsthand experience with mistakes. Sometimes I wonder if this is why I find myself doing a lot of work that involves engaging with people whose poor choices have landed them in prison for very long sentences. While I may not have committed crimes punishable by law, I do not have a hard time relating to feelings of guilt and self-condemnation.
So when we are really suffering over a mistake, how can we truly find peace? Christian Science takes an interesting approach to this question. It doesn’t offer a magic fix of making a public declaration of faith as an automatic release, but it provides answers that I find substantial. The term “sin” can be used to indicate mistakes. Originally the word referred to an archery term that meant “missing the mark”. In Science and Health Mary Baker Eddy writes, “The way to escape the misery of sin is to cease sinning. There is no other way” (p. 327). So, that would be one logical step toward finding peace: we have to stop making the mistake. It may sound pretty self-explanatory, but this can be the hardest step.
Seriously though, what if we are stuck on that step? What if we really deeply want to stop doing something but don’t know how? I don’t think we will ultimately find peace until we stop making the mistake, so this is pretty important. Let’s back up for a minute, like all the way to Genesis chapter 1. It says that God saw creation and declared it all very good (verse 26). Creation is us, and mistakes aren’t good. It’s pretty simple. Christian Science teaches that mistakes are not part of who we are in God’s eyes.
The second chapter of Genesis that mentions the curse is an allegory that contradicts the first chapter and is from an entirely different source. Of course we could get into a huge debate on this, but for the moment I’m going to do something I reserve for rare occasions; I’m going to pull out my seminary card and say: Trust me, I studied this stuff hard and am still going to be paying for the degree for 20 years, so at least let the labor and the money yield your willingness to hear me out on these things.
Let’s move forward all the way to the book of Romans where it says that there is NOTHING that can separate us from the love of God (Romans 8:38, 39). Nothing. Not even our mistakes. I remember being in college and listening to Hezekiah Walker’s gospel album Live from Atlanta where he is introducing the powerful song “Calling My Name”, which was in heavy rotation for me for quite a while. I recall hearing him ask, “Have you ever been getting ready to do the wrong thing, and you still heard the voice of the Lord calling out to you? Have you heard the voice saying, ‘You’re doing it, but I love you. You’re doing it, but I still care for you. You’re doing it, but I still want to raise you up!’ ” His emphatic words spoke deeply to me at the time.
Now I don’t really believe that God is sitting there watching us make mistakes helplessly. That love is always there, and that view of good creation is all that God can see, as one of purer eyes than to behold evil (Habakkuk 1:13). But we haven’t quite realized that good creation that God established. So we mess up sometimes. Big time.
Does God stop loving us in the midst of a mistake? It couldn’t be. Not the God that I learned about in Sunday School. Not the God who transformed Moses the murderer into a hero, not the God who delivered David from debauchery, not the God who brought Paul from pillaging the faithful to preaching the gospel. God is Love itself, that Love from which we can never be separate. So the first step toward peace may be to open ourselves to really feeling that love. That love gives us the strength to stop making the mistake and to stop condemning ourselves for having messed up. And then we might want to remind ourselves whenever necessary that those mistakes simply cannot follow us as we press on. Love enables us to free ourselves from the seemingly intense power of mistakes that would affect our past, present, and future.
To be clear, obviously there are cases where people’s mistakes will be revealed many years later and will require them to make necessary rectification. There are people who have lived somewhat normal lives for decades after committing a horrendous crime (probably not sleeping very well throughout those years from what I’ve heard from people who have not gotten caught immediately) and finally do get apprehended and have to serve time. There are cases where punishment or restitution is part of the process of finding peace and freedom in the aftermath of mistakes. But even in those cases, the mistakes do not define those people, and peace is possible for them to access as they learn to see themselves in Love’s light and to walk within God’s grace.
This is not an easy topic; I think we are just scratching the surface here. But for anyone who has made a mistake (which would be….everyone), it’s necessary to wrestle with these issues. We are not our mistakes. We are the creation that God looks at and says, “This is perfect. I love it.” No action on our part can change that.