Hope in the Midst of Failure

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You have to feel for Carson Wentz. 

The Indianapolis Colts are paying him millions of dollars.  He has sufficiently elite skills to be one of only 32 athletes who will regularly start at quarterback for an NFL team next fall.  Just six years ago he was drafted second overall by the Philadelphia Eagles.  Scouts and general managers couldn’t say enough nice things about him. 

Recently, however, his name has become synonymous with failure.

Entering New Year’s weekend, the Colts were given a 96% chance of making the playoffs.  All they had to do was defeat one of two inferior opponents.  Instead, they imploded.  The Horseshoes have spent the last two weekends watching other teams compete in the postseason.  How did everything go so wrong so fast?

Wentz became the lightning rod for criticism.  Despite admirable overall numbers – most quarterbacks would have been thrilled to post Wentz’s 27 touchdown passes against just 7 interceptions – he faltered in the crucial final two matchups.  Fans, sportscasters, and even Colts owner Jim Irsay seem to think that if Indianapolis just had a real quarterback, things would have been different. 

Irsay, reflecting on the teams that are still playing, tweeted: “you need a QB and offense who can score 30 or more [points] in regulation.”  The Colts averaged 26.5 points this season – ninth best in the league.  But that wasn’t good enough.

Personally, I wouldn’t want my pastoral statistics to be publicly displayed – contrasting the number of people who have fallen asleep during my sermons this year compared to the year before.  Inside I would be dying. 

And even though No. 2 seems to present a calm, we’ll-get-through-this attitude, I bet that something inside Carson Wentz is dying, too.

A lot of life is failure.  All of us have grounds for self-doubt. 

Optimistic individuals tend to remember things that go well.  Pessimistic temperaments dwell morbidly on past disasters.  If you combine exposure to a national audience with a sensitive spirit, there will always be plenty of angst.  As a goalie in the National Hockey League once said, “How would you like it if every time you screwed up, a red light starts to flash and everybody boos?”

Beginning Bible readers are generally surprised to learn how often Old and New Testament heroes triggered flashing red lights.  What if Twitter existed during Bible times?  Here are some possible critiques, in 140 characters or less:

“Battles depression and anger.  Didn’t even enter the Promised Land.  Is there a statute of limitations on that murder he committed?”  #Moses’MotherMadeHimABasketCase

“Bathsheba-Gate and its cover-up is the scandal of his generation.  A rugged outdoors type who writes songs about sheep.”  #DavidTheKing

“Won the Big One against Ahab and Jezebel but can’t handle success.  Needs counseling.  A shave wouldn’t hurt, either.”  #ElijahTheProphet

“The Dow Jones Disciple:  He’s up, he’s down, he’s up again.  Foot in mouth disease:  Makes promises he can’t keep.  Smells like fish.”  #PeterMayYetBeASaintOneDay

“Makes other Type A’s look like slackers.  Passionate:  Everywhere he goes, people riot.  Keep him away from caffeine.”  #PaulTheApostle

And then there’s Jesus, who got more than his share of bad press in his day.  Some of the rumors and innuendoes undoubtedly accelerated his journey to the cross.  There will always be a percent of every audience which believes even the best people are one failure away from disqualification.

Let’s hope that Carson Wentz survives this season of bad press.  And that he puts together enough good seasons in the future to silence his doubters.

Last fall the Colts voluntarily submitted to the intrusion of cameras and microphones in the HBO weekly series Hard Knocks.  In the first episode, Coach Frank Reich recalled a visit he made seven years ago to North Dakota State University, where Wentz was starring for the Bison. 

Reich, who worked for the Eagles at the time, took a ride in Carson’s truck after watching him play.  He felt led to share with the young quarterback a verse that meant a great deal to him.  It was I Peter 3:15: “In your hearts revere Christ as Lord.  Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.  But respond with gentleness and respect.” 

Wentz reached into his pocket and pulled out his cell phone.  He showed it to Reich.  His screen saver was I Peter 3:15.

In the midst of chaos and disappointment, it may take everything we’ve got to affirm, with gentleness and respect, the hope that is always ours through Christ.

And it may well be that this is one of those days in which it feels as if you’re personally facing an all-out safety blitz.

But since the clock of your life is obviously still ticking, the news is very good.

God is the God of new beginnings. 

Which means the game is far from over