Disaster at Penn State and the Sinfulness of Man

I’m sure pretty much everyone, even those who don’t know a lick about college football, has heard about the allegations of child sex abuse by former Penn State defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky.  College athletics have had their fair share of scandals, but this particular story is unprecedented, not only because it involves the horrific abuse of kids, but also that people in power–people whose responsibility is to be leaders of their institution–seemingly failed miserably to stop Sandusky over a period of years.  For some, it almost looks like it was a cover up, with a couple of men now being indicted for perjury.  It is a sad, disgusting story, and one that most people still have trouble digesting.

Against my better judgment, I read through the Grand Jury indictment of Jerry Sandusky and the ugly details of his allegations.  The mental images from the reported testimony made me close my eyes several times and wince, but it wasn’t TV I was watching so that didn’t exactly help.  Basically, the report describes the shameless exploitation of children through a charity by a predator, a predator who was not stopped despite several opportunities.  It is mindboggling how this could go on at one of the most well-known athletic departments and at one of the more famous state schools in the country.  There are already casualties:  Several people have lost their jobs, including the athletic director, the president, and now recently Joe Paterno.  More will undoubtedly come.  Of course, the real victims, the real casualties, are the many children were taken advantage of and were not protected as they should have been.  Emotional scars from that kind of abuse can last a lifetime.

Stories like this shake people’s faith in mankind, particularly those who think that men are inherently good.  It is a stark reminder that this is simply not true; when people find themselves in positions of power where they feel like they can get away with things, it is remarkable what they can do.  It is also remarkable to see what people do, or don’t do, when the stakes are high for doing the right thing; reporting this nine years ago, as it should have been, would still have cast some negative light on Penn State, and that seems to be a reason why the higher ups didn’t do much about this.  For Sandusky, he was given the opportunity to satisfy his evil desire and potentially get away with it, and he took it (many times); for others at Penn State, they were given the opportunity to avoid dealing with the situation and took it.  These were all educated men, respected men, and men who had done many good things in their lives.  However, the Bible is clear that all have sinned and have fallen short of the glory of God (Rom 3:23).  Not even the most beloved and respected people are good enough in God’s eyes, for they all have sin in their lives.

This, I believe, is the real problem.  Many in the world think that we just need more education, stricter punishment for child sex abusers and for those who fail to report it, and better preventative measures.  And don’t get me wrong, I think those would all be very good ideas.  However, the true problem for this, as well as all other acts of evil, is the heart of men.  That can be restrained by the law and social factors and in many ways it can also be outwardly conformed by them, but those cannot bring about true change of heart.  Only dealing with the deep-seeded sin problem will change people, and that only comes through one person.  Obviously, Christians are not immune to falling, as we see all the time, but for true believing followers of Christ, there is a true change of heart and a subsequent trajectory away from sin.  This is not because we are inherently better than others, but because we have Christ.  He is he only solution to the sin-problem.

Sin is, of course, a bad word these days, a word for close-minded, judgmental fanatics who don’t understand human progress.  However, stories like this make the most strident relativist and humanist pause and reconsider their positions.  Yes, there is evil, and no, men are not inherently good.  I’m not suggesting that what most people do is as bad as child sex abuse; I do not agree with the notion that all sins are equal, as if stealing a candy bar from a convenient store is as bad as raping a kid (it is a biblically ignorant position, frankly).  Nonetheless, “all sin is sin” in the sense that it falls short of God’s standard.  That applies to everyone, not just those who do particularly reprehensible things like murder and rape.  Sin on this scale reminds us all how deeply flawed human beings are and how much the world needs a savior.  Thankfully, God in his great love and mercy sent one, but people need to accept the fact that they actually do need saving and repent and believe.  Sin is real, and episodes like this only show how multiple, sinful failures can lead to one giant evil mess.

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