God Uses Flawed People
October 10, 2019
by Robert E. Cranston, MD, MA (Ethics)
If you ever want the entire world to know about the skeletons in your closet, run for political office. In the last year or so, we have heard countless accusations thrown at almost all of the potential presidential candidates, judicial nominees and current senators and representatives. A few of these may even be true! We may never know. Nonetheless, our country continues to function reasonably well under the guidance of these allegedly flawed leaders.
Unlike today’s commercial and social media that immediately broadcast rumors, innuendo, twists on the truth and occasionally pure false fabrications, the Bible honestly and transparently tells us of the actual sins, failures and shortcomings of its heroes. A number of lists of these are available with a simple web search. Some lists seem more reliable and accurate than others. I would like to highlight a few from one long list I discovered.
- Abraham was led by God from his home on many journeys and eventually brought to the Promised Land. He was mightily blessed by God with material abundance, and God told him he would have as many offspring as the sands on the seashore or stars in the sky. Yet, he lied about his relationship with Sarah on two occasions for fear of being killed. He also gave in to Sarah’s suggestion to employ Hagar as a means to obtain the promised offspring. He failed to rein in his nephew Lot, and his inaction led indirectly to the creation of two tribes, Ammon and Moab, that would serve as major nemeses to Israel over the years. But as he grew in faith, Abraham was willing to follow God’s direction to, if necessary, sacrifice his one long-hoped-for son back to God. God intervened, preventing Isaac’s death, and through Isaac Abraham became the patriarch of a great nation and an honoree in the Hebrews 11 Faith Hall of Fame.
- Elijah honored God, lived by Cherith Brook for several years, moved to Zarephath for several years more, raised a widow’s son from death, faced down evil King Ahab along with 450 prophets of Baal, called down fire from heaven and outran a chariot from Mt. Carmel to Jezreel, almost the distance of a marathon. But then, facing Jezebel he became so fearful he ran away, escaping to the wilderness beyond Beersheba and begging God to kill him. Mercifully, God denied his request and first sent an angel and then subsequently spoke to Elijah personally to encourage him. With this reassurance, Elijah returned to anoint Elisha as his successor and was carried off alive in a heavenly chariot. With Enoch, he was one of the few known faithful to escape earthly death.
- Moses murdered an Egyptian taskmaster and fled to the wilderness to escape almost certain execution. While there, he married a woman we know little about, but the little we do know reflects a nagging, critical spirit. He attempted to avoid God’s direction with excuses of his poor speaking skills. He became angry several times in the desert, shattered the first edition of the Ten Commandments, struck the rock—instead of speaking to it as directed—and eventually was excluded from the entrance into Canaan. Nonetheless, God honored Moses’ plea to not destroy the people because of their sin, spoke personally to him on several occasions and eventually—on the Mount of Transfiguration—brought him to Jerusalem.
- David stayed home during the season when he should have been with his army. He was a voyeur who lusted for Bathsheba, committed adultery with her and then had her husband Uriah abandoned to die on the battlefield. He almost murdered Nabal, (1 Samuel 25), performed a sinful census of his people and was a negligent, inconsistent father. Yet, God used him mightily, and labeled him “a man after God’s own heart” (1 Samuel 13:14, ESV).
- Peter was a quick-tempered man, and his temper did not always serve him well. He denied Christ three times during Christ’s mock trial at Caiaphas’ house. He was called “Satan” by Christ for his lack of understanding of Christ’s mission on earth and for the advice he gave Christ. He was given a special vision about the inclusion of Gentiles, and he helped lead Cornelius, a Roman, and his entire household to Christ, but later Peter had to be rebuked by Paul for his hypocrisy in refusing to associate with Gentiles. Despite these obvious lapses, God used him mightily in the first century church, most notably at Pentecost, but for many years after. He authored two epistles that have instructed and encouraged believers for two thousand years.
- Paul approved of the stoning of Stephen, and he vigorously persecuted Christians before becoming one himself. He searched out Christians, women and men, to bind and bring to Jerusalem for imprisonment. Christ Himself asked him why he was persecuting Him. He had difficulty working with Barnabas and split up the missionary duo because he could not find a peaceful way to resolve their conflict over Mark. (Gratefully, he later reconciled with Mark and worked with him in ministry again—2 Timothy 4:11.) Despite his shortcomings, God called him “…a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel” (Acts 9:15, KJV). Paul authored most of the books of the New Testament, and he was highly instrumental in introducing Christ to us Gentiles.
Ron Forseth gives us a long list of other “messed up Bible heroes,” including: Adam (Genesis 3:12), Eve (Genesis 3:6), Cain (Genesis 4:8), Noah (Genesis 9:20-21), Sarah (Genesis 16), Lot (Genesis 18-20), Job (Job 2:9), Isaac (Genesis 26), Rebekah (Genesis 27), Jacob (Genesis 25, 27, 30), Rachel (Genesis 31:19), Reuben (Genesis 35:21), Aaron (Exodus 32), Miriam (Numbers 12), Samson (Judges 16), Eli (1 Samuel 2, 4), Saul (1 Samuel 16, 18, 19, 31), Solomon (1 Kings 11), Hosea, many of the prophets and most of the kings.
Despite their failures, sins and personality flaws, God used them to His glory. What does this tell us?
- God made us and knows us well. Despite this, He still loves us. John 2:24b tells us that Jesus “knew all people” (ESV). Nonetheless, John 3:16-17 tells us He loves all people. He shows us the propensities we have to sin by including the stories of faithful people who strayed and returned to Him, as well as the stories of those who did not return.
- God uses flawed people. Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians that God worked through Paul in his weak areas. Christ told Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9, ESV). Paul notes, “For when I am weak (in my own efforts), then I am strong” (through Christ working in me) (2 Corinthians 12:10, ESV, italics added by the author).
- We are not alone in our failures. As we fail, our brothers and sisters in Christ are near to help bring us back to faithful service. Galatians 6:1-2 admonishes us to bring our brothers and sisters back from their failures, restore them gently and carry each other’s burdens. We should serve them in this manner, and we should graciously receive their help in like manner.
- God is gracious and wants us to seek Him, despite our failures. Psalm 145:8 says, “The Lord is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love” (NIV 1984).
- Some of our sins have permanent consequences. When confronted by Nathan for his adultery and murder, David confessed and repented. Nonetheless, the child born to Bathsheba died and David’s family dysfunction lived on.
These reflections prompt several questions:
- Are your past failures holding you back?
- Are you open to share your failings with others, and when others share their sins with you, do you respond in gentleness, restoring them?
- When others point out your failings, do you receive input graciously?
- Have you experienced God’s restoring grace in your life?
- Have you shared the stories of His grace to you with others?
P.S. At the beginning of this essay, I mentioned our political leaders. In this age of great incivility and political partisanship, we must remember that, as Daniel 4:17 tells us, God is sovereign and rules in the affairs of men. He places leaders in positions of authority, and he instructs us in 2 Timothy 2 to pray for our leaders. It doesn’t matter where we live on the political spectrum, we should be regularly praying for all our leaders. Human government and public policy are important but will never save the world. God is in control at all times, now and forever.