8.10.2008

VULNERABLE

John Edwards was one of my least favorite politicians, both in terms of issues and image. So you'd think I'd be crowing along with everyone else at the news of his affair. You'd be wrong.

The sensational story merely serves as a warning to me of the temptation and consequence of infidelity. As a married man, one whose wife is a cancer survivor no less, I cannot in good conscience cast a stone in Edwards' direction because I know I too am vulnerable.

It is a theme my accountability partner and I sound all the time, he being a pastor and I an elder. When we hear of some prominent public or religious figure implicated in sexual indiscretion, we are reminded that we too are vulnerable, and we recommit to helping each other avoid temptation.

Let's consider, if briefly, the three things people are tsk-tsking Edwards about. First, how could he do such a thing as a person in the public eye? Edwards' confession was telling: politics feeds an ego that eventually assumes one can have whatever one wants. There are a lot of things a man can do, but the Bible is clear that many of them are not at all in bounds. We who believe in the authority of the Bible and of the God of the Bible voluntarily restrain ourselves from off-limits actions out of an understanding that those actions offer a false promise of pleasure and ultimately lead to ruin. So to me, Edwards' fall only reinforces my vulnerability to taking actions that will lead to such ruin, and strengthens my cry to God for help to resist and to stand firm.

Second, how could he do such a thing while projecting an image of being a family man? I don't know enough about Edwards to comment on the extent to which he is a family man versus the extent to which he has just created that image for political purposes. I do know that being a family man and wanting to be seen as a family man offer little defense against the temptation to lust and to cheat. Our vows to remain committed to our spouses are vows we must literally renew each moment, in the face of an enemy of our souls who seeks to wreak havoc on the strong partnerships that emerge from those vows. I am reminded by Edwards' infidelity that having made the vow before, and wanting to be seen as one who keeps it, is not the same as fighting to be true to it each day and each moment.

Third, how could he do such a thing while his wife was recovering from cancer? This is the one that gets people all riled up. And yet, I would argue that the fact that his wife was dealing with a serious illness made him all the more vulnerable to wandering. But, you might protest, the beauty of marriage is that two people commit to being there for each other; how dare he cheat on her at that very time? Yes, but what if your spouse is not available to be there for you? What if, for a very long season, your spouse is no longer your greatest source of comfort and support for you but your weightiest expenditure of your own comfort and support? It is still, just as and perhaps even more, inexcusable, agreed; but it is also a time of great exposure to temptation.

To be sure, there is a bit of moral outrage that I feel in this situation, and shame on John Edwards for what he did. But as much as I love my wife and as much as I fear God and as much as I keep myself on the straight and narrow, I respect the fact that I too am vulnerable. I understand that the evil one is lurking and looking, I understand that we live in a me-first, lust-soaked society, and I understand my own proclivities. I have written about this before, and asked for help then. In light of this breaking news, my first instinct is to write again, to ask for help from my friends again, to double down again on my own marriage vows, my love for and commitment to my wife, and my own allegiance to the Bible and to the God of the Bible.

You may be further along in shielding yourself from infidelity, and can scold John Edwards from a place of safety from temptation. But I warn you, even as I warn myself: until we are perfected, we are vulnerable. May we learn from another man's fall the consequences of sin, and remember all the more that there is an even graver consequence to sin than public humiliation and fall from power; and, ultimately, may we reclaim goodness and grace in our marriages, even when we have to work at it, and goodness and grace in our relationship with a God whose commitment to and love for us we can be assured of, even as we are sin-ridden and He perfect.
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