I often view my life the same way I remember playing Super Mario Brothers as a kid. To explain for those who didn’t come of age with video games, I spent hours of my youth jumping on turtles and eating mushrooms and strange plants (disturbing habits, if you think about it), trying to save a princess. Inevitably I would die, an ill-timed jump or flying goomba doing my little red plumber in. However, there was a sort of “grace mechanic” built into the game. As long as I had an extra life I could try again, hopefully learning from my mistakes. These extra lives were utterly essential, but they were also a finite resource. A player only had so many. Sure, I could buy more by collecting coins or finding rare green ‘shrooms (again, disturbing), but this almost never kept up with the attrition. Eventually I’d screw up for the last time and it would be all over.
We tend, in our hearts, to disbelieve the inexhaustible nature of God’s grace. Like the disciples, we count the number of times we must forgive our neighbor, hoping that one day we might bring down the hammer, and we assume God does the same with us. We are creatures of finite patience and limited mercy, and we view our Creator as being just like us. We keep glancing up, expecting to see a counter telling us how many chances we have left before God, like my Nintendo, tells us we’ve screwed up one time too many and it’s “Game Over”.
Scripture portrays God as unswervingly faithful and eternally ready to forgive. “If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness” (Psalm 130:3-4a). This cuts against the Mario mentality we bring to life. As the verse at the top reminds us, God’s mercy is “new every morning”. It’s not like an oil reserve we use up as we power our industry; rather it is the sun, which will shine just as brightly tomorrow no matter how much we soak up today.
The inexhaustible reality of this grace is crucial to remember as we seek to live the Christian life. Unlike God, we often mark our iniquities. We look back over the years and see our perennial temptations, and we assume that the story of our past is that of our future. Surely, we feel, we must have used up our chances. Or perhaps we resolve to do better, go out, and fall on our rears once again. This leaves us feeling like we’ve failed, like we may as well stop trying since we’ve blown it so many times already. Maybe it’s time to turn off the game and try a less demanding hobby, like watching TV.
The transformative power of God’s grace rests in part on the fact that none of the above challenges affect what is really true about us. Yesterday, God promised that my past didn’t count against me, that the only truth that mattered was His love for me in Christ. Today, God tells me the same thing, despite the mess yesterday turned out to be. Tomorrow, same deal again. Every time I crash and burn, even in the instant of my failing, I am a forgiven, righteous child of my Father, and His only call is to get up, leaning against the cross, and press on.
I realize this is a familiar truth, but it is one which bears constant remembering. The devil has a sort of conviction for sin he loves, the one which keeps my eyes on my failings rather than Christ’s victory. Fighting sin like a Christian involves repentance, but it also involves looking up through my tears and seeing the blood of Christ, as free and fresh as when it was first spilled, covering me. It is a game where the lives don’t run out and the chances never end.