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When failure becomes a teacher

Human beings naturally fear failure, especially the failure that could lead to suffering here and hereafter. The mission of every responsible human being is to…

Human beings naturally fear failure, especially the failure that could lead to suffering here and hereafter. The mission of every responsible human being is to work out his or her salvation. This is why every human being ought to be docile to the will of God who wants every human being to love him, serve him and be happy with him on the last day. Human beings need to strive to avoid sin, whether venial or mortal. In life, awareness of eschatology (life, death, heaven or hell) should propel people to seek forgiveness and repentance. In striving for perfection, human beings fall into sin given the frailty of human nature. A Saint is a sinner who keeps trying. Each fall takes a Saint to a desert of deep reflection to resolve to keep going no matter the ugly past. Each failure becomes a teacher for the Saint while a Sinner who does not care about repentance dies and perishes in pride and self-righteousness. Those who take salvation as a serious mission use failure to their advantage by struggling to overcome predominant faults. Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people: robbers, evildoers, adulterers or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tithe of all I get.’  “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’  “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God” (Luke 18:10-14).

The tax collector knows himself well while the Pharisee trust in his external religious rituals. This shows that holiness and union with God are not restricted to an external display of religious piety. Regard for a fellow human being is deeper than external religiosity. The Pharisee had no right to judge the Tax Collector. Do not judge, and you will not be judged (Luke 6:37). Jesus says this because human judgement is based on feelings. Human beings judge with a human lens to want to create the other person in his image and likeness. The Pharisee prays even in the middle of the road, market square for others to notice him. Jesus says, “Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness!’ Therefore, everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them is like a wise man who built his house on the rock” (Matthew 7:22-24).

No matter how you pray, pay tithes, fast and do pilgrimages without doing what would enhance the lives of fellow human beings, you cannot be in union with God. Jesus says, whatsoever you do to the least of your brothers and sisters, you do unto me (Matthew 25:34-46). These are standards by which human beings should measure their failures and successes. In life, failure could be a teacher akin to a well-trained archer who always aims to get the target. He does not give up after missing the target with one arrow. A well-trained archer does not mean to shoot as many arrows as possible to hit his target. Failure enables those who keep trying to excel. Saul was regarded as a chronic sinner because of the way and manner he persecuted the Christians before his encounter with Jesus on the way to Damascus (Acts 9). Having accepted the Christian faith, his name changed from Saul to Paul a name he was called for the first time on the island of Cyprus (Acts 13:9). Paul did not allow his past to drag him into the mud. Luke, the author of the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostle became a Christian through the mission of Paul who was called Saul of Tarsus. His mother was a Jew and his father was a Roman. Tarsus in Cilicia is in south-central Turkey and located on the Tarsus River, about twelve miles from the Mediterranean Sea coast (Acts 22:3). Paul is a model of the Saints who keep trying without giving up.

Sometimes, trials, temptations and suffering can distract human beings from a desired vision. The mission of Paul teaches us that nothing is difficult for a willing heart.  Paul narrated his experience in his journey of faith and his struggle for salvation. “We are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. For we who live are always delivered to death for Jesus’ sake, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So then death is working in us, but life in you” (2 Corinthians 4:8-12). He wrote to Timothy, “But you have carefully followed my doctrine, manner of life, purpose, faith, long-suffering, love, perseverance, persecutions, afflictions, which happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium, at Lystra and out of them all the Lord delivered me” (2 Timothy 3:10-11).

Paul perceived sin as a result of the agent of Satan that humbles him to depend on the grace of God which was sufficient for him. This gave him the courage to cope with the “thorn in his flesh” (2 Corinthians 12: 6-7). This thorn caused him sorrow and hardship. The thorn even in a Rose flower is a symbol of pain and pleasure. At last, the thorn is a sign of Christ’s victory. Jesus was crowned with thorns during his passion. Paul wrote to the Corinthians that he had fought with beasts at Ephesus (1 Corinthians 15:32). In his second letter to the Corinthians, he said, “We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. For we who live are always delivered to death for Jesus’ sake, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So then death is working in us, but life in you” (2 Corinthians 4: 8-12).

According to tradition, Paul was beheaded in Rome and thus died as a martyr for his faith. His death could have been a result of the execution of Christians by the Roman emperor Nero, who accused the Christians of causing the fire outbreak in 64 CE in Rome. Paul said in his second letter to Timothy. “My life has been poured out like a libation, and the time for my departure is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day and not only to me but also to all who have longed for his appearing (2 Timothy 4:6-8). Failure becomes valuable when a person refuses to give up the struggle.

Sometimes, failure in an aspect of life could be a sign that God has something better for a person. My failures in life have given me better opportunities. “Like a well-trained Archer, my failure is my teacher.”  Many great people in history who had records of failures came to the awareness that failure could be a stepping-stone to success. Failures teach people the value of life, love, goals, happiness and destiny. If you fall, do not remain on the spot, get up and keep trying. Nigeria should not be perceived as a failed nation that can never rise again. We must individually pick up the pieces of Nigeria to grow a nation that would be an admiration of the whole world. Our individual and collective efforts should urge us on to greater heights on earth and finally to attain salvation and final union with God.

Rev. Fr. Cornelius Omonokhua is the Executive Secretary of Nigeria Inter-Religious Council (NIREC) ([email protected])

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