May 31, 2012: Former presidential candidate John Edwards speaks outside a federal courthouse as his daughter, Cate Edwards, left, and father Wallace Edwards, listen after his campaign finance fraud case ended in a mistrial, in Greensboro, N.C.AP/File
John Edwards gave quite a speech Thursday in the wake of having been found not guilty on one count and gotten a mistrial on the other five counts that had been brought against him. He talked about being a better parent, working with poor children, taking responsibility for the "awful things" he had done, and he even talked about God. Yes, God.
"I don't think God is through with me," Edwards said. "He still thinks there are good things I can do."
Was this really the moment to invoke God's plan? Was this just one more moment in which Mr. Edwards expressed his seemingly endless arrogance and self-absorption?
Does he think that he is so important that everything that has happened to him is really part of some Divine scheme? Does believing that this was all meant to be, get him off the hook, if only in his own mind? Is that what was motivating him when he invoked God's plan? That is one way to interpret his words, but it's certainly not the only way.
One could also hear in Edward's words the recognition, on his part, that things are always more than they seem – that the implications of any moment or action are larger than we often first imagine. In fact, if the former Senator had appreciated that fact to begin with, he might not have gotten himself into this whole mess to begin with. He would have realized that lying and cheating in one part of your life, no matter how separate you may think it is, tends to infect the rest of your life and hurt even those you think will never be touched by your bad acts.
One could interpret Edward's invoking God, and the notion that God isn't through with him, as the willingness to accept that there is an ultimate judge, but that the ultimate judge sees things from a larger (one might say infinite or eternal) perspective, which resists reducing any person to a single past bad act.
The God invoked by Edwards sees people instead as having ongoing stories, which need to play out and in doing so, offers them new opportunities to repair both themselves and that which they have broken.
I don't know which of these interpretations more accurately reflects the "real" John Edwards. More than likely, it's a combination, as it is for most of us – a combination of wanting to be off the hook, accepting real responsibility for what he did, and the genuine belief that he can make his life about something more than his worst moments – that God is not through with him and that he, John Edwards, is not through with life.
Whatever Edwards was thinking, these are issues about which all of us should think, at least every now and again. What's unfinished in our own lives? Where would we like to make repairs? Who do we hope will not give up on us? Who should we not give up on, no matter how tempting, or even justified, it might be to do so?
We all have unfinished business in our lives, and always will. And yes, that unfinished business can be a big challenge. But as John Edwards' words remind us, it is also a wonderful opportunity.
Rabbi Brad Hirschfield is the author of "You Don’t Have to Be Wrong for Me to Be Right: Finding Faith Without Fanaticism," and president of Clal-The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership.