Suggested Reading: Psalm 119:161-168
For the righteous falls seven times and rises again, but the wicked stumble in times of calamity—Proverbs 24:16
Not long ago I was remembering when I first learned to ride a bike. I remember how I fell, a lot! I can remember how wobbly and unsteady I was; riding all over the place. I was not sure of myself at all. I did not trust the bike, I didn’t feel in control of it, I was afraid to pedal too fast, couldn’t help but think about falling. In fact I was so afraid of falling I could not concentrate on anything else. I did not want to fall down, scrape my knees or worse. Well, if you ever learned to ride a bike you know falling is inevitable. If you are new to biking falling is in your future. As a matter of fact, even if you are a seasoned rider there are no guarantees you will never fall again. An unexpected bump in the middle of the road, something or someone coming across your path that makes you brake suddenly, slippery, or uneven pavement; the reasons for falling are countless. One thing I learned after falling and falling off my bike, the best thing I could do was get back on again, bruises and all.
If there is one thing God wants us to get about life, it’s that: when we fall, we should get back up again. In fact, we should not be so concerned about falling that we fail to live life. So afraid of making a mistake, or failing, or even sinning, that we don’t actually live. Adam and Eve fell but God did not leave them in their fallen state, he promised a Savior, redeemed them from their sin, clothed them and helped them get back up, sent Christ so they and we can fall without feeling as though it is the end of the world or life, or that God no longer loves us. I’ve heard the Christian life described as learning to live in grace while being confident of God’s immeasurable love and undiminishing forgiveness.
Solomon’s proverb is timely, ageless, because we always need to be reminded falling is part of the journey. Those made righteous through the blood of Christ will fall, fail, make mistakes, take steps back, disappoint self, God, and others, but can and should get back up by the power of God through Christ Jesus.
When we get back up there is no sad ending because falling does not and should not be the end of our story. The only sad ending is when we don’t rise; when life or our adversary knocks us down and we don’t get back up. Their blow becomes our final blow, the end of trying, the end of starting over, the end of hoping.
The number seven plays an important role in Solomon’s tidbit of wisdom. Seven meaning no matter how many times: infinity. The very same meaning we see in the Gospel of Matthew when Jesus is asked “Lord how many times should I forgive my brother (or sister) if he (or she) sins against me?” and Jesus responds “not seven times, but seventy times seven.” Meaning without bounds, infinity; as many times as needed (Matt. 18:22).
Lord, how many times should I rise after falling? Not seven times, but seventy times seven: infinity. More than this the question is not how many times shall I rise, but how many times you will let God pick you back up. Whenever you fall, however many times you fall, get back up without counting. Any person who has kicked a habit, overcome a long battle with any addiction can tell you, it does not matter how many times they “fell off the wagon”, failed themselves and disappointed others, that mattered most, it was the fact that in God’s strength they got back up again. Failure is only failure when we cease to try again; one more time.
The youngest member of our family just turned ten months old. Our daughter says she’s starting to step around. Timidly. Testing things out. If things go as they usually do, between timid stepping and confident walking there will be plenty of falling, plenty of bumps, bruises, and tears—at least for a moment—before the instinct to get back up takes over. We have seen this play out dozens of times, countless times before. Getting up after a fall is instinctive for a baby learning to walk. The falling down is unwelcome, humbling, startling and scary, intrusive and a set back, but only briefly, because stronger is the intuition to walk, the instinct to get moving again.
As Solomon put it rising again is the thing that distinguishes the righteous from the wicked to the very end. All through life the righteous rise because they are lifted in the strength and resilience of God. They are strengthened, they are redeemed and restored. The bruises and bumps that come from falling are cushioned and healed by the love and grace of God. The righteous do not have to count the number of times they have fallen. They know God is not counting either. He has not put a limit on the number of times his own can fall and rise; fall and be restored; the number of times he will reach out his hand to lift them back up. It does not matter their life or journey has been one big, endless series of falling. What counts is what comes after; that they also get up. Not even death proves to be undefeatable because God has promised to pull his loved one from the grave and restore to eternal life where there are no more falls, no more failure, no more sin, only eternal life.
Dear God, as long as we live may we always reach for your hand to pick us back up. In you there is no such thing as a bad ending, not even our failures or sin need to be our conclusion, because we can always get back up again. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen