Theology of Failure

Do we have a theology of failure? Not of suffering, but of failure.

We tell one another, "God will work all things out for good." Or, "It wasn’t meant to be. God has something else in store for you." And those may be true, but is that all we’ve got?

Do we have a theology of failure? Not of suffering, but of failure.

We tell one another, "God will work all things out for good." Or, "It wasn’t meant to be. God has something else in store for you." And those may be true, but is that all we’ve got?

I ask because this is a period of failure for me. I have the Midas touch turned awry–everything I touch turns to dust. (Of course, Midas learned having a touch of gold wasn’t everything he’d dreamed, either.) At my worst moments, it’s hard not to whine, "Why not me, God? What’s wrong with me?" Doesn’t he have plans to prosper me? If I pray, won’t he expand my land?

But I know it’s not as simple as that. God’s promise told to the Israelites through Jeremiah that he’d prosper them was one that wouldn’t come true for years and years. They’d first have to endure 70 years of captivity as a result of their failure to turn to God.

I’d rather not have that long wait to find out what God has in store for me.

Then come the questions of why: Did I do something wrong to warrant failure? Is God trying to teach me a lesson (and once I learn it, will everything work out like a sitcom?)? Am I not good enough? Is this failing because God truly does have something better in store (dare I hope?)? Is it spiritual warfare? Is Satan involved somehow? Did I not pray hard enough, tithe enough, evangelize enough?

Is this a season of stripping?

I’m guessing there’s not one theology of failure, just as there’s not one theology of suffering, but here’s what I’m learning so far (notice the use of present tense, not past):

I can trust God, not just because he loves to give his children good gifts, but because I can be satisfied in him.

I am God’s child, not because I’m great but because he is.

I can worship God. Even when I fail, even when everything I attempt flops, God is true, holy, and lovely.

Beauty surrounds me in the love of my husband, our families, and our friends, in this creation, which holds daily delights, in everyday pleasures such as a good book, a good painting, a good TV show (I’m not above saying I watch TV almost daily!), or a shared bottle of wine amongst good friends and good conversation (a testimony of the Body of Christ).

The resurrection, restoration, and re-creation of the earth does not depend on my failures. The hope of our happily-ever-after renews me moment by moment. My failures here make me look forward all the more to that harmonious time when I can create and play in the joy (and physical presence) of Christ.

These are the thoughts I cling to when the questions arise ("For the love, throw me a bone! Can’t one thing work?"). They may not form an entire theology of failure, but they are points of light in a dark sky–constellations that tell stories and guide me home.


Heather Goodman received her Th.M. from Dallas Theological Seminary and currently homeschools her three children. Her writing can be found in If:Equip, Art House, and other publications.


  • Avatar

    Sharifa Stevens


    Heather, this is a difficult topic, with no easy answer. Thank you for addressing it, anyway.

    I think that for me, tied to the sadness and disappointment of failure, is the offense of hope. I don’t want to dare again in the midst of dashed hopes. And hopelessness has been a potent agent of continued failure or paralyzation.

    You’re right to remind me that God, His works, and His love, never fail, which is a great relief (even at the times that I can’t feel it).

    • Avatar

      Heather A. Goodman

      I struggle with the
      I struggle with the hopelessness–if it doesn’t matter, I might as well crawl in bed with my favorite books. I need to remember the victory I already have in Christ. That’s not to say everything will be a success, but that his victory far outweighs all of these failures, and, like Monica said, to persevere when that happens. (I just thought of Cool Runnings and their perseverance in the light of their "failure.")

  • Avatar


    to persevere
    when I think of the failures in my life, I believe it’s the Lord asking me if I will persevere or will I give up. I wish I could say I’ve always been loyal, but I’m learning

    • Avatar

      Heather A. Goodman

      It’s hard for me to figure
      It’s hard for me to figure out if a failure means move on, this isn’t supposed to happen or press on, this will someday happen (or at least what you’ll learn is more important than giving up).

  • Avatar

    Laura M

    I don’t pretend to have any
    I don’t pretend to have any idea why everything is turning to dust.

    I recently experienced a failure that changed the course of my life and my plans. My plans (so I thought) would be pleasing to Him and were formulated because I thought that was the next thing he wanted me to do.

    It was confusing and disorienting. I kept going back to that locked door and rattling it…wondering if I was completely wrong or half-wrong or somewhere in between.

    My mom finally said exactly what I needed to hear but I’m not sure it applies in this situation so I won’t share it.

    Something I read today: “‘Do this,’ and he does it. It is obedience, friends, that is faith; it is doing that thing which you, let me say, even only suppose to be the will of God; for if you are wrong, and do it because you think it is his will, he will set you right.” -George MacDonald

    Sorry to hijack your post with my own story. I pray that you will get your answer whether it is persevere or repent or whatever.

    “The LORD is close to the brokenhearted
    and saves those who are crushed in spirit. ” Psalm 34:18

    • Avatar

      Heather A. Goodman

      Thank you, Laura. And it’s

      Thank you, Laura. And it’s true, if we seek, we will find. God doesn’t hide the path from us in a way that causes or allows us to be on the wrong path, but he may hide the next steps so we’ll trust him.

  • Avatar

    D'Ann Mateer

    I’ve been there, dear friend, and I’m sure I will be again. That’s what I love about the body of Christ–we aren’t all in the same place at the same time, so we can encourage each other. The things you see in this time of failure are true, and truth doesn’t change, even when we fail. I continue to learn that, daily!

    Hang in there. God is faithful.

    • Avatar

      Heather A. Goodman

      Thank you. This is why I
      Thank you. This is why I love the Church–I need all of you standing around me.

    • Avatar

      Heather A. Goodman

      That is true. (And is

      That is true. (And is something I’ve told numerous times to numerous people!) We follow a Messiah rejected by the world, betrayed, abandoned, crucified–a seeming failure. And we can now live in his victory. But his victory isn’t always what we expect it to be.

      It’s funny how we need others to remind us of our own words!

  • Avatar

    T. V. Vars

    What a ballsy subject to bring up…
    …and yet the ending of the article is the same as the beginning. I’m not referring to the choice of words. I mean, in the end what do you do when nothing changes? What would you do? Whether the amount we pray, tithe or perform random acts of kindness, everything and all of our blessings are hindsight, aren’t they? We really don’t know what we’re expecting to get even if we do the above perfectly. “Faith is hope in the things unseen”, as Paul said and no wonder he tells us to “pray unceasingly” because there must have been times he was gone out of his mind with doubt, worry and not even about himself. No. About us? I am not worth it, I know this. And that’s ok. Because my Savior still loves me even as my faith tells me the same. Still, I want to see proof of this. I suppose and believe that whatever He gives me, as long as it’s what I’ve already desired makes it true. Isn’t that sad? It is sad. And thank God for grace.