On Failure

by George Baum

George

George Baum

So, I had this friend growing up, whom I’ll call Beast (since that’s what we called him growing up). He and I were confirmed together and hung out all the time. Beast was very science-minded, always building things and telling me how great prime numbers are and so on. At some point in high school, our group of friends got really into Jesus-y things, and we would sit around together playing songs by Larry Norman and Randy Stonehill.

My other friend, whom I’ll call Michael (because that’s what we called him growing up), and I began writing our own songs and playing concerts at local churches, and Beast would come along and run sound and carry heavy things (because he was The Beast). Over time, science and religion just didn’t go together for Beast, and he became something of an atheist. Michael and I would expend a lot of energy trying to convince him of the truth of our faith, but we got nowhere. You could call our efforts an epic failure—but it was to be expected. (I mean, other than C.S. Lewis, has anyone ever been argued into believing in God?)

In the years since, Beast would sometimes join us on tour, and we’d have long discussions about faith and science and things. I found myself quite comfortable with all these conversations, because at some point I realized, in Beast, God had created a person who was honestly incapable of believing in God. The more I have dwelt on that notion over the years, the more it has informed my entire theology about salvation. Beast could no more believe in the existence of God than he could believe that water freezes at 100 degrees. He just wasn’t built that way.

At some point, not too long ago, Beast and I were discussing the need to care for the planet. And he told me it doesn’t really matter to him. (Obviously, any religious argument about stewardship held no sway.) And I said something like, what about your kid? He shrugged and said, “My kid is a non-binary asexual human being who will never have kids. So, once I’m dead, it doesn’t matter to me one bit what happens to the planet.” (As you can see, you never have to guess what Beast is thinking.)

In the months since, I’ve wondered if this isn’t another epic fail—not just by me, but by our educational system not teaching ethics, and by our politicians not understanding science, and by our religious leaders misunderstanding the gospel. Have we all failed Beast by essentially steering him to logically conclude that he should not care about the environment?

I don’t know the answer. But I do not doubt that the window to save the planet is closing faster and faster. I also believe that God will make a new heaven and a new earth—not somewhere else right now, but right here in the future. God is in the business of bringing resurrection out of failure; that’s what God does. Nonetheless, when one of the smartest people I’ve ever known can logically conclude that it doesn’t matter if the world cannot support life in a couple decades, I can’t help but wonder: Is there a fail so epic that God can’t pick it up?

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