What To Do When You Have Blown It
Then Noah built an altar to the Lord (Genesis 8:20).
The year 1995 was a difficult one for me. I was working far too many hours and the idolatry of my work and my children’s activities had caused me to drift in my devotion to my wife. We were not in danger of divorce (we agreed early in our marriage to never allow those words to drip from our mouths) but there was a coldness, a distance. While in Africa on a preaching trip, God showed me my sin, the damage I had done to my wife, and the need I had for repentance. I had blown it. What could I do? I wrote her a long letter and when I saw her in Northern Ireland (our church was on a mission trip there) I gave it to her, asking her forgiveness. She still carries the letter everywhere.
I bet you have blown it too, perhaps in more severe ways. Maybe your wife has said that she wants a divorce, that you have demeaned her one too many times and she can no longer take your verbal cruelty. Maybe your children have lost respect for you and now pity you, or worse. Perhaps your angry outbursts at work have cost you another job. All seems lost. Your life has left a series of broken relationships in its wake. Is there any hope for you?
Genesis 8:13-22 is a remarkable ‘Yes and Amen’ to that question. God has justly destroyed the earth and every living thing because of the people’s pervasive sin. In verses 13-19 we find, as Noah and his family disembark from the ark, Elohim’s (this is God’s name to designate his creative action, see Genesis 1) re-creative work. The language here is very similar to that used in Genesis 1. The animals are to be fruitful and multiply. So, in spite of the earth’s destruction God is telling Noah that he will start over. Then in verses 20-22 we see two more vital elements to God’s work of restoration and renewal. Noah worships God by taking from all the clean animals and offering a sacrifice. No doubt this sacrifice was two-fold in nature. He was giving thanks to Yahweh for sparing his life. He had seen the carnage of bloating bodies on the flood waters and knew he deserved the same. But there is a sense of propitiation, atonement here also. Surely the sacrifice of all these animals took many hours. The blood that flowed must have covered him. The animals squealing in agony as they died sacrificially was a sobering visage. Noah, acting on behalf of his covenant family, sought God in worship. Then we note that Yahweh (the name used here for God’s covenantal faithfulness to his people) renews his covenant with Noah and creation, saying that he will never again destroy the world, though he knows the sin of the people is evil continually.
The bottom line here is that God will restore all that your sin has destroyed. This is wonderful news, very comforting, but I know what you are thinking, ‘I have blown it. I see no hope of restoration. And besides, isn’t it true that we sometimes must live with the consequences of our sin, even though we are forgiven through Christ? Can I really expect God to bail me out of the consequences of my sinful actions?’ I know. I wonder about that myself sometimes, but we serve a God of re-creating grace. What is this work of restoration he promises to do? Three principles are gleaned from this text – re-creation, redemption, and regeneration. He promises new opportunities, though all seems destroyed (2 Cor. 5:17). The world was destroyed by the flood but God in mercy started over. He gives you the grace to do the same.
But you still may say, ‘I know I am in Christ, that my sins are forgiven, but the estrangement I feel from my spouse and children came after my conversion.’ But Yahweh promises new beginnings, though all seems lost. He is a God of redemption (Ruth 4:1, the kinsman-redeemer principle). Jean Valjean, in Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables, was a thief who was taken into the home of a Bishop. A marvellous conversation takes place where the Bishop says that he knows him, that he knows his name, that it is friend. And how does Jean Valjean reward the Bishop’s faithfulness? By stealing silver plates from him. When caught and brought back to the Bishop, he shows mercy to Jean Valjean by telling the police that yes, he had given him the silver but he should have taken the candlesticks also. Jean Valjean is humbled to the dust by the Bishop’s mercy, which transforms him into a righteous, virtuous man. Is this not a picture of redeeming grace through Christ! God will restore what your sin has destroyed.
God also promises new life, though all seems dead. This is regeneration (1 Pet. 1:3) and we see Yahweh giving new life to the earth after the flood. God gives new life through the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit in salvation and he gives new life to damaged or dying relationships.
How does he do so? God’s mercy and grace flow through the death and resurrection of his Son. The flood narrative is a picture of Christ’s passion. Noah and his covenant seed enter into salvation, safety in the ark, while God’s judgment rages outside. Noah comes forth from the ark, offering sacrifices of thanksgiving and atonement, looking forward to the day when Messiah would once and for all do what the blood of goats and bulls could not do (Heb. 9:13-15). You see – the death and resurrection of Jesus make possible the application of God’s saving work of regeneration (giving new life), justification (giving us right standing before God), sanctification (making us progressively more and more like Jesus), and glorification (removing the vestiges of sin, making all things new).
But when will this restoration come? It may come partially and progressively in this life. Certainly you should pray for it, doing your part of sincere repentance and restitution, seeking to be reconciled by showing fruits of repentance (Matt. 5:23). However, you can be sure that it will come fully on that great day when God will make all things new (Rev. 21:5).
What then are you to do if you have blown it? Resist the temptation simply to do things. Your spouse, children, or friends ‘have been there, seen that’. They probably don’t trust you. Take a hint from what the biblical characters did who blew it – men like Adam, Abraham, Jacob, post-exilic Israel, Matthew, and Paul – you must seek God with all your heart. Your greatest need is to grow closer to God, to know him more intimately, to allow the Holy Spirit to sanctify you, to kill your idols of destruction, to glory daily in the cross of the Lord Jesus. How do you do so? Take advantage of the private and public means of grace – public and private worship, the preaching of the Word, and the sacraments. Ask God to develop within you a deeper and more experiential love for Christ. Seek him, not to ‘fix’ your broken relationships, but to build godliness and holiness in you. Then wait for God to restore what you have destroyed. He will do it in his time. He will restore what your sin has broken.
Rev. Allen M Baker is Pastor of Christ Community Presbyterian Church in West Hartford, Connecticut.
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