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Ashley Madison, the Gospel and Facing Spectacular Failure

All failure lands hard. But there’s an exceptional type of failure – of the Ashley Madison variety – that publicly exposes one’s worst moments and secret sins. The path into the future is instantaneously rerouted to a dark alley filled with a dangerous mob and devilish snares.

Call it ‘spectacular’ failure – the surreal tragedy of watching your life spontaneously combust like a fireworks finale gone bad.

  • It’s Nathan outing David’s adultery and murder with “Thou art the man!” (2 Sam 12:7).
  • It’s Joseph exposing his brother’s murder, slave trafficking and daddy deception with, “I am your brother, Joseph, who you sold into Egypt.” (Gen 45:4).
  • It’s Peter saying, not once or twice, but for the third time, ‘Guys, watch the lips. I really don’t know him!’ (my paraphrase of Luke 22:60)

Some failures are so big and bad, they become terribly ‘spectacular.’

Two weeks ago a pastor committed suicide after his name appeared on the Ashley Madison list. There’s no judgment here, only billows of sadness. Who can fully comprehend a despair so great that ending one’s life seems rational? But that’s the danger when failure is spectacular. The tragedy foments a shame so damning that it overshadows the light of hope and colors the world with night. Damp, desperate, darkness – a disgrace so great it collapses the soul.

Maybe you’re there. Or perhaps you know someone who just arrived. This terrain is so dangerous that only the gospel can survive. Let it speak, and listen well.

First there’s ugly news. Something wicked has happened by your hand. Yes, you are culpable – stare at it and don’t break the gaze. But if you follow Christ you have a reset button called repentance. Hit it right now; hit it hard!  Your circumstances won’t change, but your heart will.  And that’s infinitely better.

Remember, the bloody death and resurrection of Christ breaks into our calamities with the news that this failure need not enslave us. For Peter, David, the Ashley Madison clients, or anyone encountering spectacular failure, there is always another chance. There is a better word, spoken at Calvary, that speaks louder and more definitively than the words of condemnation that swell within.

Now crank the gospel-volume. That’s right, spin the good news dial as high as it will go, and let the tune of God’s grace overwhelm the sound of the evil one and his accusations. If you can’t find the setting, let me provide a jumpstart:

  • Failure attacks identity and seeks to rename you. But your mistakes cannot name you. God has already claimed you, and he calls you his child. (Gal 4:7)
  • Your failure is not the final thing God speaks over your life or your future. As long as you draw breath there is always more to God’s story. There is always a next chapter. (John 21:15-19)
  • The random thoughts accusing you must be replaced by superior thoughts of God. Take them captive (2 Cor 10:5) and set your mind on better things. (Col. 3:2; Phil. 4:8)
  • The judgments of others are a trial only for this life. God knows all (Ps. 139:1-4) and evaluates you lovingly, graciously and in light of his success upon the cross. (Col. 1:11-12)
  • People talk and gossip hurts (Prov 10:18), but the cross reminds us that only a small portion of our mistakes and sins are ever really seen by others. Our sin was so bad it required God’s blood to solve the problem. (Heb. 9:11-14)
  • Self-pity digs a hole in failure and seeks to bury us. The gospel speaks to self-pity by reminding us that even when life delivers a demoralizing blow, we have been treated far better than our sins deserve. (Ps. 103:10)
  • The gospel never says, ‘what if ‘ but always “what now.’ “What if’ shrinks the soul under the withering heat of vain speculation. “What now” fixes us in the reality of a providential God superintending all things for our good (Rom. 8:28) and asks “what should I now do to please God?” (Col. 1:10; Heb 13:16)
  • Jesus loves you, and because he rose from the dead, he’s praying for you. (Heb. 7:25)
  • This is not your real home (2 Peter 3:13). Once you arrive safely home in the new heavens and new earth, you will see your failure through the eyes of eternity and stand amazed at how God used it for His glory. (Is 65:17; Rev. 2:1–7)

The gospel is the ultimate wisdom of God for our failures, no matter how spectacular they may be. It is God’s reminder that our failures are never big enough to chill His love or stop His plans. Because of the gospel, there is always hope, always rescue, always another chance.

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