Photo: ABC News
“The wicked put up a bold front, but the upright give thought to their ways.” -Proverbs 21:29
As last year’s child sex abuse scandal tore through Penn State University, many people found themselves in shocked disbelief that someone could have spent years wreaking so much havoc in the lives of young boys.
Jerry Sandusky, a man who ran a foundation aimed at helping under privileged youth, was being accused of using his authority and privilege to take advantage of powerless children. The evidence was as overwhelming as it was disturbing.
When the Sandusky trial came to its bitter conclusion, people once again found themselves in shocked disbelief when the convicted sex offender used his final opportunity to address the court as a bully pulpit, extolling his own “virtues” while cruelly tormenting his accusers.
This is part 5 of an examination of how we respond to our sins, and how these responses help determine the trajectory of our lives.
Part 1 covered how sin reveals both who we are, and a refusal to change.
Part 2 looked into how God demands that we examine ourselves against his standard of truth.
Part 3 delved into the choices we make in adversity, and how they shape our relationship with God.
Part 4 investigated of how confession and repentance move us from a path of destruction and point us towards restoration with God and mankind.
“The proud and arrogant person—“Mocker” is his name—behaves with insolent fury.” -Proverbs 21:24
Scripture provides no better illustration of a prideful and arrogant person than Saul, the first King of Israel. In his self-centeredness, Saul made mistakes:
Saul disobeyed God by offering a sacrifice on his own terms.
He disobeyed God again, carrying out battle plans of his own.
Because of his sins, Saul lost the ability to pass the kingdom to his sons, his endorsement to rule, and the manifest presence of God in his life. These were incredibly severe penalties, especially in light of all the good things that Saul accomplished during his reign.
Why was God so severe towards Saul?
After both of his failures Saul was confronted by the prophet Samuel, and in each of these situations Saul’s response to his sin demonstrated the condition of his heart.
In the first confrontation: “Saul said, “When I saw that the people were scattering from me, and that you did not come within the days appointed, and that the Philistines had mustered at Michmash, I said, ‘Now the Philistines will come down against me at Gilgal, and I have not sought the favor of the Lord.’ So I forced myself, and offered the burnt offering.” -I Samuel 13: 11-12
In response, Saul doesn’t deny what he’s done, but subtly distracts and deflects responsibility for doing it.
To the second confrontation: “…and Saul said to him, …I have performed the commandment of the Lord.” And Samuel said, “What then is this bleating of the sheep in my ears and the lowing of the oxen that I hear?” Saul said, “They have brought them from the Amalekites, for the people spared the best of the sheep and of the oxen to sacrifice to the Lord your God, and the rest we have devoted to destruction.” -1 Samuel 15:13-15
In response, Saul immediately denies what he’s done, and when he can’t live in his denial, he first deflects, then minimizes in an attempt to deny his responsibility and self-justify in the process.
Saul’s sin demonstrated that he was selfish.
His response revealed that he wanted to remain selfish.
The ancient Saul seems like a modern me in confusing “admission” with “confession”. Admission usually comes when we acknowledge under confrontation, but true confession is the result of offering the truth freely.
Saul’s great desire to give an explanation for “what happened” came at the expense of confessing that he had actually sinned.
It was only after repeated confrontation, and the announcement of punishments, that Saul would confesses to “having sinned”. His desire to change was only expressed in light of the painful reality that he could not escape the consequences of his sin.
“Now the Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul, and a harmful spirit from the Lord tormented him.” -1 Samuel 16:14
Keep in mind that “harmful spirit” doesn’t necessarily mean “demon”. The Hebrew word we translate as “evil” can refer to the character of the spirit/mood or to the effect that the spirit/mood had upon Saul. Regardless of the interpretation you choose, it’s important to note that the writer of the Scripture saw God’s hand at work in Saul’s tormenting.
Saul’s refusal to confess led to a place of mental, emotional, and spiritual trouble.
This is still true for us today isn’t it? You see, confession isn’t just essential in our relationship to God, but it also factors into our mental and emotional health. True confession is healthy because it forces us to be honest with ourselves before we interact with God or other people.
A life spent denying responsibility and running from the truth is a life built upon what we “need to believe to live with ourselves” instead of the reality of who God is and who he is calling us to be.
Without the righteous standard of “Godness” to measure ourselves against we will default to inventing our own standards of “goodness”.
When we refuse to capitulate to God through confession and repentance we eventually create a fantasy world where we live as the persecuted hero.
It’s a world of Denial, Distraction, Deflection, and Minimization.
It’s the result of God being willing to give us what we want.
The rest of Saul’s life was a tragic descent into madness. He concocted his own version of reality, a version in which no one understood him and everyone was out to get him. Unable to determine friend from foe he drove righteous people from his household while making bedfellows of the most despicable sort.
Despite all of the life saving intervention that had God set in front of him,
insanity was the final destination of a trajectory that Saul set for himself.
Paul Wilkes says, “True confession, which demands self-reflection and change, has little to do with the flood of confessional disclosures that characterize our age… In this time of Internet connectivity, amid the din of oversharing, we mistake spasms of self-revelation for honesty. Our inner voice is not so easily found and cannot be parsed into ten-second bursts. That voice needs time to find the right words to say and the right place to say them.”
Try as we may, we will never escape the truth and justice of the God who is still merciful enough to confront us towards an honest confession.
“When justice is done, it brings joy to the righteous but terror to evildoers.” -Proverbs 21:15
In June, Jerry Sandusky was convicted of abusing 10 boys over a period of 15 years. In the version of reality he has invented for himself he is merely a man being punished for “loving people” and “being tragically misunderstood”. In the reality we live in, he was sentenced to 30 to 60 years in prison.
“We are at liberty to be real, or to be unreal. We may be true or false, the choice is ours. We may wear now one mask and now another, and never, if we so desire, appear with our own true face. But we cannot make these choices with impunity. Causes have effects, and if we lie to ourselves and to others, then we cannot expect to find truth and reality whenever we happen to want them. If we have chosen the way of falsity we must not be surprised that truth eludes us when we finally come to need it!” -Thomas Merton