One of the most common misconceptions most people have about God is that He relishes dishing out punishment.In fact, in the movie Bruce Almighty, the main protagonist in the story, Bruce, espouses this belief when he cries out to God saying: “Smite me, oh mighty Smiter”!
The unfortunate truth is…this seems to be a common view of God. That not only does He relish the idea of punishment, but that He actually enjoys dispensing it. But to be honest, I just don’t see that in the Bible. Oh, I do see punishment, but I see divine judgment as a last resort for God, not an immediate knee-jerk reaction.
Even in the Old Testament, where much of God’s judgment is seen, I see a God slow to anger and long on patience. A God that continuously pleas for His people to listen to Him instead of their own desires. And a God that exemplifies patience by holding out on judgment for hundreds or even thousands of years. Leaving millions of people to lead lives and extend generations that would never feel God’s wrath. That’s the God I see.
And in one of the most remarkable conversations to take place in the whole of the Bible, we see just how much God wants us to grow through our failures, instead of hammering us for them. And He does that in a conversation between His Son, Jesus, and the Apostle Peter.
This extraordinary dialogue is so important that it is recorded in all four Gospels. And through all the Gospels catch the spirit of the conversation, only one, Luke, provides us with the depth to see this truth more clearly. This encounter is recorded in . And as always, it is best we set the scene of this interaction in order to see it in context.
This conversation with Peter takes place in the Garden of Gethsemane just before Jesus is arrested…and hours before Jesus’ crucifixion. At this point in time, Jesus is giving His Disciples some final instructions and preparing them, as much as was possible, for the difficulties that were to come. At one point He turns to Peter and makes a very fascinating statement.
Jesus warns Peter that Satan desired to try to crush Peter’s faith. He then makes the extraordinary promise that He has prayed for Peter so that: “your faith should not fail” (a). Jesus knows that the Disciples would be facing tremendous demands upon their faith once they realized and saw that Jesus would be tortured and crucified. So He is trying to prepare Peter for this.
But Jesus also adds in a caveat that most people miss in a cursory reading of this passage. Jesus goes on to say: “and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brothers” (b). Do you see what Jesus is saying here? He is telling Peter in no uncertain terms that he (Peter) was going to fall away. That he was going to fail.
But notice, He doesn’t focus on the failure…Jesus instead focuses on Peter’s success after he comes back to Jesus. Jesus says: and when you have returned to Me. Meaning that in order for Peter to return back to Jesus, he has to first turn away from Him. But let’s look at Peter’s response.
Once Jesus prophesies Peter’s failure, Peter responds by saying: “Lord, I am ready to go with You, both to prison and to death” (). What, in essence, is Peter’s response to Jesus here? You’re wrong. Imagine telling the Messiah, which is Who Peter knew Jesus to be, that He is wrong about something. But that’s what he did. And Jesus’ response? Only after that denial did Jesus go into detail about Peter’s failure.
Remember, Jesus’ focus, to begin with, was to emphasize Peter’s actions after the failure. Not to focus on the failure itself. It was only after Peter’s stubbornness to disbelieve Jesus and engage his own desire to focus on the failure rather than the grace, did Jesus then give a specific time and manner of Peter’s failure. Which, unfortunately for Peter, concluded when he denied three times that he didn’t even know who Jesus was…just as Jesus foretold.
What is the takeaway here? Just this. That when we are a Believer, a child of God, when we belong to Him, saved, whatever terminology you choose, that God is way less interested in chastising our failures than He is growing us through them. With Peter, He was trying to grow Peter through a failure that had not happened yet…and that Peter said was not ever going to happen.
As long as we struggle with our sin nature, we will fail. We will. We will not reach perfection this side of heaven. Our failures are not a surprise to God. He already knows when, where and how we are going to fail. And since He did not love Peter any more than He loves us, then he will do for us what He did for Peter. He will grow us through these failures. He will not punish them, He took care of that on the Cross. He will at times allow temporal consequences for our failures…but He will not punish His own for failing. He will not focus on the failure. Instead, He will focus on what happens…when we come back to Him. That’s what forgiveness of sin is all about. How cool is that?
On behalf of myself, Robert Houghton and all of us here at Growth Project…keep reading God’s Word.
Dr. Purvis started Growth Project after spending 20 years on active duty as a Chaplain in the United States Navy. After many moves and multiple deployments, he settled in St. Cloud, Florida to do God’s will. A glutton for educational punishment Danny has a BA in English from Carson-Newman College, an MDiv from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary; a ThM from Princeton Theological Seminary; and a PhD in Organizational Leadership from Regent University. He has been married to his wife Kimberly (whom he met when they were 6 years old) for nearly 30 years and they have four wonderful children.