Week of May 28, 2014

Todd JonesMy Dear Friends,

My Dear Friends, The Book of Proverbs says, “Though the righteous fall seven times, they will rise again.” Another translation says, “A righteous person falls seven times and rises again.” I love this notion of Biblical righteousness, because it assumes that good people will fall and fail. A righteous person is not the same things as a perfect person, and that is good news for all of us who know we are far from perfect! All of us fall along the path of life, and none of us are strangers to failure. In point of fact, most of us are the people we are as much because of our falls and failures as our successes. Biblical righteousness is not the same thing as moral perfection. It has far more to do with living in a relationship with God where forgiveness and redemption are real possibilities, and where we learn through all the experiences of our lives.

This past week, I read a wonderful article about the role of failure in scientific discovery. We all know the legendary stories that accompany Thomas Edison, that tell of all the failures he encountered onto his way of the invention of the first incandescent light. Each failure brought Edison closer to his breakthrough. Without failure, Edison would have never known success. This is the same story told by the life of Jerome Horowitz. Horowitz was doing cancer research at Wayne State University in Detroit. In 1964, he experimented with a chemical compound called azidothymidine, now known as AZT. He was looking for chemical compounds to treat malignancies and thought that AZT held promise. But after testing it repeatedly, he laid aside all of his failed work and moved on to work with other drugs that might be more effective. Horowitz never patented AZT but never lost faith in the promise of this chemical compound. “We had this very interesting set of compounds waiting for a disease to cure.” Twenty years after his failed experiments with AZT, the drug company Burroughs Wellcome found that it was effective in treating a form of AIDS-related pneumonia, and AZT became the first drug used widely and effectively to prolong the lives of those infected with the HIV/AIDS virus. Burroughs Wellcome, now a part of GlaxoSmithKline, made enormous profits from AZT, and the drug has been used widely across the world to save lives. While Horowitz never made a dime from his research with AZT, he died in September 2012 without a trace of bitterness. He worked to find cures for disease, not to make money, but to make a difference. In some ways, his failure to find a drug to treat cancer turned out to be his life’s greatest success. Jerome Horowitz touched and saved millions of lives across the globe through the use of his failure in cancer research.

We too readily label events and experiences as “failure” or “success” when we really do not know what use they will ultimately be to us or to the world. Our fear of failure is usually unnecessary, for we almost always grow from and through those failures. They bring us closer to the life we are meant to live and the people we are intended to become. “A righteous person falls seven times and rises again.” In his biography of Dwight Eisenhower called Ike: An American Hero, Michael Korda points out that it was Eisenhower’s defeats in North Africa at the beginning of our entry into World War II that would “transform Ike from a skilled military bureaucrat into the toughest, most experienced, most formidable, and most realistic American commander since Ulysses S. Grant.” You could easily argue that it was from being a failure as a general in Africa that Eisenhower would grow to be one of our greatest military heroes.

Abraham Lincoln lost elections eight times, including two unsuccessful runs for the House of Representatives and two for the United States Senate, before he was elected President. No one would suggest today that Abraham Lincoln was a loser, and no one would fail to list him among our most important and best presidents. Failure seemed to enable Lincoln to grow as a leader. This man who was no stranger to failure and sorrow would find words to galvanize and finally heal a nation almost ruined by bitter conflict. I cannot imagine someone who had not tasted the bitterness of defeat and failure writing the words, “With malice toward none, and charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us the right, let us strive to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds…” Arguably the greatest speech ever given in the history of our nation came from a man who had failed repeatedly, yet rose again from his failure to bless and redeem our whole country in its darkest and most trying hour. Paul says, “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.” God is always at work in our lives for good. God works good in failure and success alike. This is the heart of the Gospel.

With Love and Prayers,

Todd Jones

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