Damaged Goods: A Biblical Pattern of Grace and Renewal
I have been reflecting on an unusual pattern I have noticed in Scripture . . . the type of people Yahweh almost always uses to provide leadership among his people. This is the one trajectory that we often fail to discern in Scripture. Perhaps we fail to see this pattern because we tend to squeeze the life out of the text and thus turn the people into flannel board characters.
I grant that God wants his leaders to be men, and women, of good reputation, models of purity and the like. But I have to ask myself given the way we sometimes treat our leaders and the apparent perfectionism we often hold them too -- I think we would eliminate most of the leaders that God himself has appointed. Most of our leaders are in fact "damaged goods." But I would contend that does not disqualify a person, rather that person then becomes a model of the transforming power of God's grace in the life of an individual.
Just think with me for a moment about the leaders of God's People down through the ages -- please note that the one theme that ties these folks together is they are "damaged" goods. For example:
1) Noah had a drinking problem
2) Abraham was a liar and a compromiser of his wife (he passed this legacy down to his children -- not much of a father in that regard)
3) Judah had that shameful episode with Tamar . . . if there is a page we censor from our nine and ten year old it is usually this one
4) Moses was a murderer
5) Aaron made Idols on the side
6) Gideon tested God (repeatedly)
7) Jephthah did the unthinkable to his daughter
8) Samson -- well I wouldn't let my daughter be caught dead with him
9) David, the man after God's own heart -- called "the shepherd of my people", broke every law in the book save the Sabbath commandment (and the text is simply silent on that) -- he abused his power, he lusted, committed adultery, committed murder of his loyal subject, he lied and on I could go.
10) Hezekiah and Uzziah are shown to be men with feet of clay
11) Manasseh, the practitioner of magic, witchcraft, murderer of his own son in a pagan ceremony is made by God ruler of his people (2 Chr. 33.1-20)
12) Hosea had an adulterous wife and a horrendous family life
13) Jonah -- what more needs to be said?
14) Matthew had a "reputation" for he was a nasty tax collector
15) Peter denied, publicly, of any knowledge of Jesus, he goofed in Antioch
16) Paul was a blasphemer, murderer, and certainly had a "reputation"
17) Finally Jesus himself had a certain reputation (a glutton and a drunkard they said)
Go through the "hall of fame" of faith in Hebrews 11 and ask who are NOT "damaged goods." Precious few!
My point here is that when we look for leaders we do not automatically exclude the sister or brother with "a past." What we need to look for is a person who has been walking trustingly in the faith. A person who is a living testimony to the grace of God. I have been part of churches where none of the persons listed above would have made the cut -- because they were "damaged goods." But WHY did God choose these very people? Perhaps Jesus' words to Simon shed light on the reason: "who will love him more?" Simon replied, "I suppose the one who had the bigger debt canceled." (Luke 7.36-50). Paul said THE reason he was chosen was precisely because he was the world's greatest sinner (1 Tim. 1.15-17).
Being of good reputation does not mean never fallen, never blacklisted, never bruised, never damaged. Would David be "qualified" to be an elder? He is called a Shepherd, King, a man after God's own heart. Would Paul be qualified? I had a Shepherd that was a recovering alcoholic and I believe he was one of the most qualified men I have ever served with. People who have been damaged, people who have been clobbered by the world in the past -- often times are the very ones who have just what it takes to give strength to the weak, bind the sick and injured, to be the instrument of mercy rather than judgment (see Ezk. 34).
Far from saying that we are "lax" I believe that by finding our Pauls, Davids, Mannassehs, Abrahams, and the like shows to the world that we are people in the redemption business. God takes broken lives and transforms them into whole, meaningful and God oriented lives. Mercy triumphs over judgment (James 2.13b).
Damaged Goods are close to the heart of God -- at least that seems to be one of the patterns of scripture to me.
Hesed & Shalom,