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Rewarding Failure

Rewarding Failure

          Do you think failure should be positively rewarded? I don’t. That is why I felt a sense of frustration as Congress announced this week that they were looking to give an emergency loan package of between $15—17 billion to the “Big Three” automakers to keep them solvent through the beginning of next year. Remember, this announcement comes a few weeks after the CEOs of the automakers jumped on the bailout wagon (sorry I couldn’t resist the pun!) and showed up at Capitol Hill in their private jets (which cost $20,000 a trip) and asked for blank checks with no apparent plans to change their cash bleeding ways. When the public backlash hit, the chastened CEOs returned to Washington driving hybrid cars with slick business models. Needless to say, they were greeted with much skepticism. The primary reason they have gained a hearing is due to the attempt to save millions of American auto related jobs in this historic recession.
          But is this how America has come to operate? We will forgive and overlook repeated futility and failure? We have witnessed this song and dance before from the automakers. They have already received billions of dollars in government aid and still they are on the verge of bankruptcy. How do we know this time things will be any different? How can Americans be assured we will not be rehashing this same conversation a year from now? Honestly, when is enough, enough?
          The Bible is very relevant regarding the issue of failure and consequences.  Galatians 6:7—8 states “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man [or woman] reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life” (NIV). The Bible teaches that there are consequences to our actions. Bad behavior results in punishment. Good behavior results in reward.
          When God gave the Israelites the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20, He was laying out boundaries as to what behavior was acceptable and what behavior was unacceptable. Imagine that, God has standards! My wife and I teach the same thing to our three year old son. It is not appropriate to hit other people, or pull hair, or steal a toy, or yell, or be disrespectful, to name a few rules. If he violates the rules, there are negative consequences, like a time out. But if he is a good boy, we reward him and praise him.
          But the automakers seem to operate in an alternate reality. They are losing sales and revenue because foreign competitors are beating their socks off, their stock prices are dropping to historic lows, and they are incurring massive debt. They beg the government for help and then the government says “OK, here is some more money to keep perpetuating your bad behavior.” It is simply rewarding failure. I would be labeled a bad parent if I acted that way. And I would be called a bad pastor if I ignored or even rewarded inappropriate behavior at our church.
Now as I write all of this I feel a strong tension. The greatest concept in the Bible is the idea of Grace. That God does not always give us what we deserve (punishment) and sometimes gives us what we do not deserve (kindness). God is not a capriciously vengeful God, but a God of love and forgiveness. But He still has standards.
          Thankfully, Congress is now talking about providing oversight and accountability by creating a cabinet level “car czar” position and taking a 20% stake in the auto industry to ensure its success. And surprisingly Chris Dodd, the Senator from Connecticut, has publicly called for the CEO of General Motors, Rick Wagoner, to resign if GM is to receive any bailout money. Finally, someone is trying to enforce a level of accountability! But my question is this: why now? Why wait until the ship is sinking to fire the captain? Is this all too little too late?

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Pastor Paul Hoffman