Ray Rice, God, and second chances

by Barnabas Piper

Posted on Friday, September 12, 2014, at 10:33 am

We worship a God of second chances. His grace is immeasurable, and without it we’d all be doomed. We love to expound upon and promote grace. It is foundational to our very being. Sometimes, though, grace gets complicated. Like when it gets mixed up with a demand for justice (or revenge).

This week TMZ released the complete video of Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice viciously punching his then-fiancée Janay Palmer in a casino elevator back in February. He struck her so hard that she fell back and struck her head on the railing of the elevator and slumped unconscious to the floor, after which Rice simply stood there waiting for the doors to open so he could drag Palmer’s limp body to their room. The National Football League suspended Rice before the season for the first two games, but the day the video came to light he was released by the Ravens and banned from the NFL indefinitely. It’s the least he deserved for such an act.

Our gut reaction when we see something like that video is a combination of thirst for vengeance and righteous rage. We want him to pay his dues, to get what’s coming to him, to face justice. We want him to hurt like he hurt his fiancée.

At the same time, though, isn’t there a twinge of … something? A faint memory of forgiveness and a small voice whispering that we aren’t really any better than Rice. Our actions may be better, but our hearts are just as sinful. That little voice asks if maybe he deserves a second chance, a little bit of grace. Most of us tell that voice to shut up and stay out of business that doesn’t concern it.

But what does grace look like for someone like Ray Rice? Does he (or any abuser) deserve a second chance? God is a God of second chances, after all.

We have to remember that “second chance” doesn’t mean “equal chance.” It doesn’t necessarily mean a full restoration of status, rights, or privileges. His second chance might not be a path back to the NFL and its fame and riches. And a “second chance” definitely doesn’t mean full restoration right now. Most second chances come over time. While God forgives in a moment, He restores in His own time, and society is usually less gracious.

When a person has hurt others, his second chance from society isn’t handed to him; it’s earned. Our hearts are wicked and prone to abuse freedoms and privileges unless, that is, we have learned to appreciate their value. To hand someone in this situation a second chance carte blanche would not be very smart. Rather they must prove themselves over time to have changed and, if they have, earn back some trust and rights they lost.

That’s why grace is tricky. We can’t think of it only as a soft landing place or a gentle gift; sometimes it has an edge on it and demands a high standard. But that standard is what leads to restoration even as it upholds justice. 

Barnabas Piper

Barnabas works for Lifeway Christian Resources and is the author of The Pastor’s Kid: Finding Your Own Faith and Identity and Help My Unbelief: Why Doubt Is Not the Enemy of Faith. He and his wife live in the Nashville area with their two daughters. Follow Barnabas on Twitter @BarnabasPiper.

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