We like to whitewash our historical heroes. As we look to the great men and women of faith who lived and died before us, we face the temptation to rejoice in their strengths and to ignore their weaknesses. The same is true of our contemporary heroes.
Though it is right and good to have human heroes, we soon learn they all have flaws. There is not one who has lived and died without sin. A thorough study of any person living or dead is likely to eventually turn up some besetting sin, some hypocrisy, some oversight, some transgression unbecoming of a believer. As we tell their stories, we tend to overlook their flaws, applying a coat of whitewash over their stains and excusing them away. This isn’t a good solution.
Over the past couple of decades I’ve seen a handful of friends, acquaintances, and people I admire from afar make a shipwreck of their ministry. For any number of reasons they quit or were forced out in the midst of scandal. This causes terrible pain and disruption in the moment, and it mars their legacy as Christian leaders. The harsh reality is that for as long as they live, they cannot and will not be known apart from their grave transgression (something that is true even though they may have repented and been forgiven for it). The Christian leader who commits adultery can only ever be known, understood, and remembered in light of that adultery. Even as we speak of all the good that he may have accomplished, the excellent books he may have written, and the great sermons he once preached, there’s always that asterisk attached to his name. And rightly so. God calls his leaders to live above reproach (1 Timothy 3:2) and some sin so gravely that their reputation is permanently blemished.
This was in the back of my mind as I went out walking the other morning to spend some time in prayer. One of the most meaningful elements I’ve added to my personal devotions in recent months is the long list of prompts for praising God provided by Lianna Davis. That day’s prompt seemed especially appropriate. “Even after every failure on this earth, in eternity, you’ll simply welcome us to enjoy (1 Thessalonians 5:9), and you welcome us now (Luke 7:48).” As I prayed through this, I immediately thought of a man I much admired whose ministry recently dissolved into scandal and whose legacy, rightly, now has that asterisk attached to it. He is no longer in ministry and, I trust, never will be again because the sin represented by that asterisk permanently disqualifies him. Yet I found myself rejoicing that in eternity it will no longer be there. God will remove it forever!
Today, if we see his name on a conference roster or book cover, we wonder whether we should listen to him or read his material because he was exposed in a great hypocrisy. But in that great day, all that history will be caught up in the greater story of Christ’s redemption. The adulterer will no longer be an adulterer, the thief will no longer be a thief, the fool will no longer be a fool. Even after every failure on this earth, God will welcome us simply to enjoy us. What a day that will be.