Do you really believe everyone deserves a second chance? That question was posed to me by a congregant in the Friendship Center following worship this past Sunday. I had just preached on the Demoniac in Mark 5 who was given a second chance at life by Jesus when his demons were exorcised from him. And I even used the phrase, “In the kingdom Jesus is building, everyone deserves a second chance.” It seemed natural that someone might want to raise this question. Especially this man, who had spent a career in law enforcement and admitted that he had “seen too many things” to think that everyone – literally everyone – deserves a second chance.
We chatted briefly, our conversation most amiable, and in just a few moments we acknowledged several things:
- Preaching can be a difficult event for the both preacher (who can’t cover every possible question a listener might be thinking) and listener (who can’t really respond, as preaching is very much a one-way communication experience)
- When we say “second chance” we should be clear about whether we truly mean a second chance or the repeated giving of chance after chance after chance.
- There are truly heinous acts that fall under a different category (as outlying cases should do)
But I believe his question deserves a bit of a longer answer than a quick back-and-forth after worship can afford.
“Second chances” – whether we are talking about our earthly relationships with one another or our relationship with God – are about exactly that. Relationships. And in relationships there is always a role for accountability in addition to the grace and forgiveness of a “second chance.” Giving too many chances without any kind of accountabitly in return can lead to enablement of undesired behavior. Conversely, too much accountability without a chance to live anew is abuse and oppression. For the relationship to be such that the individuals in it have the opportunity to live up to their potential, there must be a balance between grace (“second chances”) and accountability (a change in behavior). Jesus said this very thing in John 13:34 I will give my love to you (grace), he said, and the expectation in return is that you love another (accountability). In this respect, I would have to say, I don’t believe in giving a “second chance” without some kind of change in behavior in return.
Yet, this thought alone misses a larger point. “Second chances” – whether extended by God or among people – are about faith. The reason we grant grace to one another is because we believe the recipient of that grace is capable of producing something good for others; something that will improve relationships and community. When we fail to grant grace – or when we are hesitant to give a “second chance” to someone – it is because we doubt their ability to do this. So perhaps the better question is not “Do you believe everyone deserves a second chance?” but rather “Does God believe everyone is capable of producing something good for others?” To this I would respond “Yes. I believe God does.” This is why God grants grace to us – not just a “second” time – but again and again and again. Such is God’s faith in us to produce good for others.
Navigating the waters of “second chances” and accountability – in our families, in the workplace, and in every conceivable way in a wider society – will always be difficult. Only when we seek to find the balance between the two will we truly thrive. And only when we are motivated by God’s faith in us – and by God’s grace to us – can we hope to find it.