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01 June 2018

Hot scorn and balmy grace

Hot scorn and balmy grace

Jo Frost is the director of communications at the Evangelical Alliance.

"It's always even better watching Liverpool lose than watching Everton win." Spoken like a true blue. My colleague even did a little jig as he ran to greet me with glee after Liverpool lost the champion league final last weekend.

On Saturday night, the final whistle had not yet blown, but the commentators were already clear as to who was to blame for the team's loss: goalkeeper Loris Karius. 

The serious injury for Liverpool forward Mo Salah, and the sublime skills of Gareth Bale, and his, would not quell the hot scorn that dripped from pundits' lips over the two goals that Karius mishandled during the final. 

Phrases including "error-laden", "infinitely sorry", "inconsolable", "disastrous" and "calamitous" have all been used by journalists to describe Karius since. His failings have been on display to a global audience and his shame visible for all the world to see. 

In interviews Kairus talks of how hard he has found it to sleep since the match, and how he replays the goals in his head over and over again. Psychologists are lining up to claim their 15 minutes of fame to hypothesise how long it will take for Karius to recover from his professional catastrophe, what treatment he should seek, and whether this will break him or make him stronger in the long run. Third-tier Italian side Rimini has even offered a supposed lifeline to Karius, to help him "rediscover his calm, self-belief and strength to follow his dreams".

Failure, judgment and shame. Three things we have all experienced. Probably not live in front a global audience of millions, but we all know that sinking feeling, the cold sweats, the urge for the ground to swallow us whole. 

In Isaiah 61, which starts with the verses that were declared fulfilled by Jesus in His local synagogue in Luke 4, we hear God's promises to His people: "A crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair" (v. 3). And later, "Instead of your shame you will receive a double portion, and instead of disgrace you will rejoice in your inheritance" (v. 7).

In Jesus we are assured that we do not carry the burden of our failings, that we do not suffer the judgment of our mistakes. Although we may experience the world's condemnation and criticism, if we are in Christ we harbor no shame or guilt. We are free, free indeed. 

But how easy is it to rest in these assurances when the louder voices are often the ones telling us exactly where the blame lies? The mocking voices of ridicule from family, acquaintances or colleagues; the superior voices of condescension, and even the harshest critic of all, our own mind, all seek to drown out the whispering, gracious voice of God's love and hope and peace.

This is why so often in the letters of the New Testament we are reminded of the assurance of God's love for us. In Romans 8:38 Paul declares that nothing can separate us from the love of God. In 2 Corinthians 10:5 he asserts his practice to "demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and … take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ". 

As I look at Karius and the events that have unfolded for him over the last week, I find myself asking, who do I allow to judge me and what power will I grant my failings to have over my identity and my life? Ultimately, I am challenged to declare through the words of the psalmist afresh today, "The Lord is with me; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?"   

Photo: Unsplash