"Joe Paterno wouldn't cover something like this up. I know he would never do something like that."
Really? You know him? Really? You know his motivations, whether there's any rift between very public outward actions and inner reality? Are you able to see into everyone so clearly, or has God just given you insight into the heart of this particular sports hero?
This isn't about Joe Paterno, but maybe it's a teachable moment.
Maybe it's just me, and I lack the insight others have, but I can't see into anyone's heart. Not Joe Paterno's, not Billy Graham's, not my own kids. So i'm going to stop pretending. It means I have to admit I don't know everyone's status with God, and it also means I can't wrap my own identity into that of someone else, not even a little bit. But here's some good news:
You can actually live like this.
Years ago, the brilliant satirical "news" outlet , The Onion, ran a headline: "Neighbors Say Serial Killer Seemed Like the Serial Killer Type". Satire works, of course, because it's precisely the opposite of what we're used to: "I never thought he could do this," or "He was always nice, kinda kept to himself, I never dreamed this," or "They were involved at our church, and good people in the community, and..."
And...we knew him, but it turns out, we didn't. And, satire aside, this resonates with millions of people who's marriages have broken up after many years, when, in a heartbreaking moment, even spouses find they didn't really know their loved ones. Not completely. (I caught MSNBC's special on the BTK killer recently. He was president of his church board, had a wife, kids, regular job...and raped and strangled people for years. His own family had no inkling who he really was.)
Bizarre as that is, this isn't about expecting the worst in people, or even a warning about the "dark side" of others. It's about one thing: Humility about what you and I actually know. That's all.
We don't like admitting this. In fact, once we take a stand on a particular issue, or person, that alone is enough to provide psychological momentum to just keep going with him, all the way down, if need be. A few years ago, I was part of
a church who's very charming pastor - and he WAS a cool guy! - was having multiple affairs. There was denial from the congregation, a lot of let's-not-look-that-way. When finally confronted, the pastor strongly and convincingly denied this character assassination, too... until he was handed, by the board, a DVD showing him in his car, making out with a member of the church staff, recorded by a private detective.
Case closed? Not for his ardent supporters. Even though he admitted it, they knew he wasn't that kind of guy, you know. He wouldn't do that. Video or no, he was a man of God, and really knew his Bible, and...
Happens all the time. My Grandma Hansen was a Republican, and she defended Richard Nixon. He was completely innocent. And when Nixon admitted his own guilt, it did not dissuade her. Makes me think of the words of Matt Thiessen, from "When I Go Down":
When I go down, I go down hard
And take everything I've learned
And teach myself some disregard
But Grandma Hansen wasn't that into Relient K.
We think we know more than we do. We find our identity in someone else, and we get on board. Trouble is, if it's not Jesus, we're getting on a train with no guaranteed destination, and a high probability of going off the rails, anyway. And the eerie thing: The way our consciences work, once we're aboard, we can even see the thing going over a cliff, and we still don't want to jump off. We'll even re-write the story in our minds, doing whatever narrative gymnastics necessary, to make our hero, and therefore us, the real victims.
So don't buy a ticket. Don't find your identity with anyone except Jesus. Not even the most charismatic, wonderful-seeming, harmless, funny, charming, person you've ever met. Not even the most learned, scripture-seeking, powerful-preaching, or stirring worship-leading person ever. Not even your own family. Not your children, not your dad, not your spouse. No one, but Jesus.
"But Brant, I happen to really look up to you, and -- "
I get this from time to time, and I'm blown-away honored, as a Z-list Minor Radio Celebrity. But you don't deeply know me, not really, try as I might for honesty on and off the air. I don't even know me, not my innermost motives. (Once again, check out I Corinthians 4!) My motives are a mixed bag, always. And yes, I do, much of the time, want to be an example of what it can look like to grow in and toward Jesus, but that's just it - follow me only on the way to Jesus. Find your identity in Him.
Jesus is your Teacher. No one else.
He will not let you down. Pay attention long enough, and I will.
Better yet, let's walk together, humbly, toward God. And all the while admitting we see only outward appearances, while God, and God alone, sees the heart.