There has been an outpouring of righteous indignation, in the media and in social settings I have been a part of, in response to the sexual abuse scandal at Penn State University, in which a long-time trusted assistant under revered football coach Joe Paterno was arrested for 40 counts of sexual abuse of young boys over a 15-year period. This indignation has tended to focus on the abusive acts, as well as on the ways in which Penn State leadership either did not act forcefully enough or did not act at all when confronted with their existence.
You may find it strange to know that I have not felt or expressed much of that indignation. It is obviously not because I don't believe these acts are abhorrent; I know far too many people in my life whose lives have been wrecked by sexual abuse to think that these are minor transgressions. It is also not because I am a Penn State football fan who wishes for this whole incident to go away so that I don't have to deal with the stain this is going to leave on Paterno's legacy or on the ability of the team to have future success.
Maybe it is different for different sins, and maybe I am oversimplifying things, but I think there are generally two reactions to these kinds of situations, both of which emerge from a realization of one's own flaws. The first is to allay one's own guilt by pouring condemnation on others worse than us. If we even have an inkling that there are consequences to our own bad behavior, we can be made to feel better that there are others out there who are worse than us. And, piling on the condemnation further removes us from dealing with the possibility of our own condemnation.
The other response is for outwardly wicked sins to remind us of our own sinfulness, and to sober us to its consequences. We are reminded that the withering heat applied to those at the center of the Penn State scandal is nothing compared to the ultimate judgment exercised by the Ultimate Judge. We are reminded of the cry of the psalmist in Psalm 130: "If You, LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?" We are brought to our knees by the realization of all of our own sins, as well as all of the times we have been sinned against, as well as all of the sinfulness around us. And, try as we might, even by recommitting to good deeds and repenting of bad deeds and helping others walk right, we are ruinously marred by the existence of sin in our hearts and in our generation.
I'm not saying there is no role or no right for us to heap judgment on those who hurt children or on those who cover it up. These are despicable acts worthy of condemnation. But, let us tend to our own souls as well, and use this tragic set of events to see whether we are mindful of the darkness in our own hearts, sobered into confession and repentance by the searing heat of God's judgeful eye, and made all the more joyous at the reality of His mercy by the awareness of our dire need for it.
May God have mercy on those who have done wrong, on those who have been wronged, and on all of us who have done our share of wrong and of being wronged. I leave you with the remaining verses from Psalm 130, which follow after the one I quoted above:
If You, LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? But there is forgiveness with You, that You may be feared. I wait for the LORD, my soul does wait, and in His word do I hope. My soul waits for the Lord more than the watchmen for the morning; indeed, more than the watchmen for the morning. O Israel, hope in the LORD; for with the LORD there is lovingkindness, and with Him is abundant redemption. And He will redeem Israel from all his iniquities.