We All Fall Down

I recently learned that a man whom I know and respect, a long-standing elder of a strong church, a gentle and kind man, a seeming bulwark of spiritual maturity, has been secretly living in adultery for ten years and embezzling money from friends and associates. Now I'm sure everyone has heard of this kind of thing happening, but when it happens to someone you know well, the emotional and spiritual impact can hit you like an earthquake.

   The emotional and spiritual impact of this scandal can be earthshaking. The ground of your own stability rocks and you suddenly feel sick to your stomach. Questioning your ability to spot authenticity, you wonder if anyone else was deceiving you.

   After shaking your head for a few days, you begin to detect a twinge of self-righteousness in your shock and disbelief. Your head shakes slower and the this-kind-of-thing-could-never-happen-to-me thoughts reveal the thin ice upon which your friend has stood. But slowly you become aware of your many little compromises with sin and the careful rationalizations you had made to smother the Spirit's conviction in your own life.

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   This man's fall was not the result of one wrong move. It was the result of thousands of bad choices, each one placed on top of the last until the voice of the Spirit had become muffled. And suddenly, the unthinkable became reality. He wasn't an evil man, only an ordinary man whose conscience had been deafened by his compromises. And what happened to him isn't so far away from any one of us.

   In thinking about him, I've been led to 2 Peter, chapter 2. Peter tells us that God rescued Abraham's nephew Lot and called him a "righteous man" (2:7-8). Lot . . . a righteous man? Who are we talking about here? The same Lot who offered his daughters to be ravished by the men of Sodom? (Genesis 19:8) The same Lot who chose the best land rather than leave it for his Uncle Abraham; whose disobedient wife was turned into a pillar of salt, and who drank himself into a stupor when his daughters wanted to have sex with him to insure descendants for the family name?

   Righteous Lot? I always thought Lot was a bona-fide jerk! Were it not for Peter's comments in this passage, I'd have had Lot burning away in hell a long time ago. Apparently God knew something about Lot's heart that I don't see in the Old Testament account. Actions don't always tell the whole story.

   Nevertheless, we're very quick to judge a person by externals. If someone is caught in a sexual sin or gets a divorce, we cross them out of our address book. But fortunately for Lot, I'm not his judge; and fortunately for me, you aren't mine.

   We can't see deep enough into a person, not beyond the level of action. Only God can judge perfectly, seeing the hidden motives of the heart. If we could see cut-away views of the heart, I can imagine a person caught in sin revealing a righteous heart but weakness of the flesh. At the same time, I can imagine a person with an impeccable exterior shell whose heart would reveal filthiness and greed.

   Whether my friend is a snared believer or an evil imposter isn't for me to decide. The bottom line here is to allow God to be the judge. Only then can I be freely compassionate, forgiving, understanding, and helpful. Only then will I truly honor Paul's instruction: Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted" (Gal. 6:1).

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