I believe it was in the preface of Screwtape Letters C.S. Lewis’s Latin dictum response to those who praised his obviously acute sense of sinful human nature leapt out at me long ago. In simple English, what he was saying was the reason he had a grasp of it was due to his own self-knowledge, his own capacity for wrongdoing, for what The Bible calls “sin”.
In the past two weeks I’ve heard yet again of two larger-than-life Christian leaders who horribly violated trust, in both cases their immoral choices deeply affecting a massive amount of people.
In this same time period an email came in from a person who had come to faith in the Jesus Movement days years ago (in another country), was won to Jesus by someone in a wonderful ministry… and within a couple years that ministry was gone. The person writing themselves fell away from the Lord, only coming back to Jesus years later. The individual who had so rightly influenced them to saving faith had themselves fallen away. The person writing me basically asked if “the good old days” would ever return.
When I read from both Testaments I see only glimpses of truly good old (and amazingly good-to-come in eternity, thankfully!) days.
I’m now thinking of a guy who trashed his own life, marriage and family due to a horrible experience with a lord-it-over pastor, an abusive man who eventually destroyed that church -it is no longer there. The point is not that the pastor was righteous, in the end neither was one of his right-hand-men as he eventually chose some of the same track as the pastor he would not forgive had. Sin is what they both had in common.
With zero embellishment or exaggeration I could tell dozens of true stories of my own sins and those of Christians, leaders and non-“leaders” alike in every sort of fellowship, traditional or very modern or contemporary church and ministry, on and on and on.
I’ve often said that one thing all humans have in common is sin- only the specifics and ramifications may differ.
In terms of leaders, to whom much is given much shall be required -rightly so-. Some sin wreaks greater havoc and effects a greater number of people -all whom are “the apple of God’s eye.”
After best practices are discussed, agreed upon and established day in and day out by individuals, groups and etc., we still hear of accusations, true, partly true or false, but horrid and plenty true moral fails then are also discussed trying to make sense out of why and how things went so far off any rails of decency, mutual respect and outside of reverence for God.
The Bible itself is loaded with stories (whether allegorical, Jesus’s parables or historical commentary) of leaders and non-leaders sin, breaking of covenants, of trust and of anything close to a Christian standard of morality.
Within this reality right through history comes a simple but profound truth: in marriage, family, name-the-group, workplace or social connections whether or not someone claims to follow and apply the teachings of biblical morality -we sin. All of us.
The differences are often less or at least less horrifically damaging to others, but in the end any sort of counseling practice or human gathering (Christian or otherwise) to help others also includes and in fact draws broken, hurting and also sinful (like those providing the services) people. There is just no end or full-on fix for this though there are best practices and healthy boundaries.
As for myself and my views- one thing about moral fails is that I’m just never surprised- because I know my own propensity to seek MY way, MY desire/s fulfillment and am only as honest, truly in the practical accountable as I CHOOSE to be with others. I am only a self-centered choice away from any sin and so is everyone reading this.
Having said all this, the two decisions I believe all face as we live life -and now I mean re. those seeking to know, love, follow and apply Jesus’ teachings in all relationships and behavior are:
Will we seek God and trust the compass of He Himself as LIVING and PRESENT GOD in our life regardless of what He obviously allows re. sinful actions of others… or conversely will we live in such fear, and/or anger that we essentially shut people out (leaders or not), ourselves going beyond healthy boundaries, refusing to trust anyone -because how can we?
To clarify- how can I trust God when He allows horrific things to happen even among His people?!” –on the one hand- along with “How can I trust people regardless of how kind and real they seem because this may be an evil Jack the Ripper, an angel of light in disguise?!”.
Certainly after some bit of time a believer comes to wonder if they can either believe God AND/OR that their fellow humans are worthy of any real trust.
My deepest punchline to all this? It starts with me.
It begins with you dear reader. If you do not learn to genuinely trust in and surrender to God even though horrible things did, are or may happen in your life, and add to that if you rather full-on will not trust in other humans due to the possibility their sin may bring hurt and misery to you and those you love… I suggest that a foundational issue in this is you have not yet faced your own ability and propensity to sin.
I’m not blaming either you nor myself for other’s sinful choices, but until and unless you learn your sins nailed Jesus to the cross as much as theirs did, the turmoil itself will be (and yes, I believe in a devil and demons as did Jesus) nothing but a despairing pain in your life. Why?
Faith is both a gift of God and a fruit of the Holy Spirit. While we need to pay attention to danger and potentially dangerous people it seems clear from a full read of Scripture that constant doubting the Lord as well as judging/misjudging people around us is something other than faith, hope and love.
I’m not at all meaning individuals are not (nor will not be before God’s throne) accountable for their sins. Quite the opposite. What I am saying is the more your faith in God, His Word and taking careful, thoughtful risks in following Jesus are jettisoned the more you are living for yourself rather than for the Lord and others. Satan, demons and plenty of people on this planet would love to see you take such a path.
This is the very sort of thing that takes people fully out of Christian service, away from any local church or ministry, establishes ever more fear, anger and self-righteousness a hyper-critical posture and in the end, may -at times- be as if not even more destructive than the specific sin that prompted such a breach in spiritual faithfulness in the first place.
“Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust.” -James 1.13,14
There is little mystery involved folks. The particular “lust” may and does differ, but sexual, financial, to be “king/queen of the hill” among one’s peers (control-freak power trips), a hard and then harsh doctrinal/non-loving/non-Christlike attitude towards others, on it goes. We’re all guilty. There IS no other Savior but Jesus.
Meanwhile, we must and shall grieve over sin in and outside our Christian fellowships as right through history we repeatedly see moral failure of all sorts. It seems to me ALL sin is moral failure. That we will not admit and confess each of our own sins and deal with them appropriately (I mean in the broad sense of Scriptural directives on faith, repentance, accountability/confession and where needed restitution and when possible reconciliation), this is the core and sadly, deepest foundation in such fails.
God offers us daily grace! God help us choose Him, His Word, His ways and will above our own. When we do not there is still mercy IF we will take His Word and commands seriously and apply them. Beyond this, I find little more than despair and chains regardless of who you are.
As for just a few of the Scriptures that speak to this- some are extremely uplifting and others deeply sobering. So be it, God is God and the sooner we take our relationship to Him and others more seriously than our personal fulfillment, the better!
1 John 1.5-2.6
2 Peter 3.18
As always, thanks for stopping by. -Glenn