This week I come bearing questions that have stumped many in history’s wake.
1) Does one sin (call it mistake if you will) negate a lifetime of good?
2) Does the degree of sin (call it error or even law-breaking) negate the degree of good?
3) Does one “incident” of bad judgment weigh-down the judge’s scale when there is a life-time of good choices on the other side?
4) Finally, do sins of omission out-weigh sins of commission?
Let’s examine these questions through the lives and actions of two men, who happen to be in the newspaper last week, the late Penn State long-time football coach Joe Paterno and Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick.
Paterno spent almost 50 years winning games, raising money for the university’s library among other things, doing things the “right” way in terms of recruiting and such. His legacy, before 2011 was secure in every way. I’ve never met the man, but I’ve known persons who knew him, and they all say he was an outstanding man. Yet, apparently he knew, befriended and at one time employed a man named Jerry Sandusky, a pedophile, who sexually abused children. He apparently knew this took place and did nothing substantial to stop it, according to a report. The nation now wants a statute of Paterno taken down for his sins of omission.
Vick was convicted of running a dog-fighting ring a few years back., He served his time and is now the beneficiary of a second chance, and a huge contract. He has written a book acknowledging his past, but moving on. He says this is his last time to say he is sorry.
The Apostle Paul was adamant that there is no degree of sin. His entire thesis about grace needed for our salvation, through faith is that if one would be governed by what he called the law, the Mosaic law, part of which is the Ten Commandments, one would be governed ethically, morally, spiritually by it all. In other words, if you’re in for a penny, you’re in for the whole thing to mix my metaphors gleefully.
One mistake, one error, one problem, one grievous choice, one simply little sin is just as big as, well, murder and the like. One mistake thus equals all the good one has done because one can never do enough good.
Thus, everyone needs a second chance. The grand question of all life becomes how does one get one? Who is responsible for that giving of second-chances? How can we earn it? Upon that, C.S. Lewis wrote, lies the difference in Christianity and every other religion. We can’t earn it. It’s a gift. A sweet, wonderful gift called grace.
Jay Paterno, Joe’s son, said on ESPN the other day that this one bad moment shouldn’t negate his father’s long, long legacy of good. The sad but clear fact is it does. It always does. One affair equals a half-century of happy marriage. One lie equals a political career of telling the truth. And one letting a pedophile operate under your nose or one slaughtering of animals equals every football game ever won. In fact, in my mind it more than equals it.
Do I forgive them? Certainly. I must or I do not understand what Jesus talked about. That’s the scales of justice I must operate with, because that’s the forgiveness that’s been given me, whose sin is equal to Paterno’s or Vick’s. God, I wished it wasn’t, but it is.
Billy Turner is the pastor at Eunice First United Methodist Church, and he has a daily blog called That’s Life at billyssaints.blogspot.com