You never get used to the feeling of shock that runs down your spine and tingles your toes as your brain attempts to begin processing shocking news. If it were possible to acclimatize to that feeling, 2015 would have me well on my way there. News of some sort shocks and outrages people every day (see social media for today’s chic fit of outrage), but the sense of shock experienced when someone you know, someone you’ve been connected to, is found to have been a part of something inconceivable is another sort of shock.
This year my seminary community with which I have been associated has experienced its fair share of shock and sorrow. In March a youth pastor in the city who was an alumnus of my seminary was arrested on charges that he had an inappropriate sexual relationship with one of the girls in his youth group. In July another alumnus living in the city was charged with sexually abusing at least two boys at a church where he formerly served. Then, the coup de grace, the story you’ve probably heard: in July a professor committed suicide because his name was on the leaked Ashley Madison list.
In the months that have passed I’ve witnessed a wide range of responses from an equally wide array of people. Shock, sorrow, lament, apprehension, fear and uncertainty have abounded. There have been plenty of questions for which I am convinced that there simply aren’t good answers.
Some responses have themselves been shocking. Some because of the grace conveyed to those who have been irreparably hurt and damaged by these events, but others because of the pride and arrogance that have been conveyed. I have actually witnessed some people on prominent platforms say things like, “I’m glad the Ashley Madison list was made public.” From there, the gist of the argument follows the idea that someone, particularly ministers, shouldn’t be able to hide something as egregious as having an affair and those on the list deserve the consequences they experienced.
That’s a bit ironic to me because I thought Christians were people of grace and the popular definition of grace that I’ve heard espoused from multiple platforms across evangelicalism from my youth is, “Grace is not getting what you deserve.” They deserve it? What about their families? Do they deserve it? What about their churches? Their communities? Their friends?
The spiritual pride in such a sentiment is mind-blowing and it wreaks of a misbelief that any of us is above anything, no matter how sinful. Those individuals who lobbed bombs of condemnation and disbelief and wrath at people who admittedly committed unspeakable evils have seemingly bought the lie that “I could never do that.”
The fact of the matter is, that at any given moment any one of us can make a decision that becomes a pattern that, left unattended, can be our downfall, that can destroy us personally and that can destroy our families. And the first step to falling victim to such an attack is to believe the lie that you are somehow above it.
Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.
We are not above anything. That awful, heinous thing that just popped into your head that you’re convinced you could never do; yes, you could. We are all capable of wicked, despicable things. Yes, actions have consequences and should we fall we will certainly experience those consequences. However, let’s not lose sight of the fact that, if not by God’s grace, that could be you. That could be me. That could be your family or my family.
The shock of the year has reminded me of the need for constant vigilance, for deep community and for a renewed emphasis on the audacious, abundant grace of God in Christ. May we as Christians become known for these things.