Anyone can put together a theology of success. It is not hard to celebrate men and women who are winners and explain what makes them great. The tough work lies in constructing a theology for failures. Perhaps because I have failed so often in my life, I look for the word from God that will help me keep going when I feel I’ve let God and everyone else down.

Perhaps that is why I’m drawn to a little phrase for losers at the core of the Book of Jonah: “Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah the second time …” (Jonah 3:1). In some ways, that truth outdistances the large fish as the most startling revelation in the entire book. God gave the prophet a second chance. Deliberately, consciously, stubbornly, Jonah had disobeyed God. He had run from him in a fit of rebellion, yet God came to the prophet a second time and allowed him to carry on his ministry.

Wrong-Way Riggles

On New Year’s Day, 1929, Georgia Tech played UCLA in the Rose Bowl. In that game, a man named Roy Riggles recovered a fumble for California. Somehow, Riggles became confused and started running 65 yards in the wrong direction. One of his teammates, Benny Lom, outdistanced him and tackled him just before he scored for the opposing team. When California attempted to punt, Tech blocked the kick and scored a safety, which was the ultimate margin of victory.

That strange play came in the first half, and everyone watching the game was asking the same question: “What will Coach Nibbs Price do with Roy Riggles in the second half?” The players filed off the field and went into the dressing room and sat down on the benches and the floor—all but Riggles. He put his blanket around his shoulders, sat down in a corner, put his face in his hands, and cried like a baby.

A coach usually ...

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