Michael Vick wants a second chance.
Bill Smith doesn't think Vick has earned one.
Everyone knows who Michael Vick is (at least, everyone in the US). Michael Vick is a notorious name now. Has been since 2007, when his Bad Newz Kennels dog-fighting operation was busted.
Bill Smith isn't so well known. He's the founder of Main Line Animal Rescue in Philadelphia, and he's angry that the Philadelphia Eagles have signed a contract with Vick. Sporting News Today quotes Smith as saying: "There are a lot of people out there who deserve second chances more than Michael Vick."
Here's something I'd like Bill Smith to consider—and Michael Vick's critics and defenders as well. Throughout the debate over Vick's reinstatement in the NFL (a reinstatement that still hasn't exactly happened, by the way), you hear "second chances" thrown around a lot, and by both sides. He deserves a second chance; we owe him that. No, he doesn't deserve a second chance; he hasn't earned one. And at the root of the discussion is the idea that a second chance is something you earn, and either Vick has earned one by pleading guilty and enduring prison or he hasn't earned one because, well, he just hasn't.
Here's something to think about: Michael Vick doesn't deserve a second chance. Because, in the end, no one "deserves" a second chance. But everyone needs a second chance.
You don't earn the right to start over. The most you can do is show that you take sincerely the gift of starting over. You can tell God and the world what you've done, how you've failed, where you've been wrong. That's confession. But confession doesn't earn a second chance. It's just being honest about yourself. It sets you up to receive a second chance; after all, if you don't admit you were wrong, how can you start over?
And after confession comes change. It's where you do things differently. You change the people you hang around, if you need to (and Michael Vick seems to have seen that he needs to). You change the way you think about yourself—the lies you tell yourself, that let you cut yourself a break, that let you excuse what you know can't be excused. That doesn't earn you a second chance, either. When you at last do what you know you should have done at first, you may earn someone's trust, but you aren't earning a second chance.
I became a Christian because I needed something I hadn't earned. I needed more than a second chance. I needed to have my past wiped out before God, even though I carry to this day some of the consequences of things past. And because I became a Christian at a very young age, I spent a lot of time failing and confessing and starting over. I needed more than a second chance; I needed scores of new starts, day after day. I didn't earn a single one of them. Nothing I do today wipes out what I did yesterday. Patience with my kids today doesn't erase (from their minds or mine) the hot words I spewed at them yesterday. A gift to my wife today doesn't change a promise I broke to her yesterday. An "I'm sorry—I was wrong" doesn't earn an "I forgive you." But I still need to be forgiven. I need it from God, from my family, from everyone around me. I haven't earned it, but I need it.
It may be a while before Michael Vick earns your trust (and mine, to be honest). I think he's taking the right steps, putting the right people in his life. He's got a ways to go. But as far as earning a second chance, that will never happen. He won't earn that. He needs one, though. He needs one as much as you and I and Bill Smith do. I hope he takes the gift God offers. I hope we see the evidence of it in his life. Just as I hope I see that same evidence in my own life.