Displays of Sin’s Destructive Power

Last week I visited the Gerald R. Ford Museum with my friend Steve and my two boys.  We all love studying history so visits to places like that are a blast. 

The few exhibits about Ford’s rise to the presidency fascinated me.  The machinations associated with Nixon’s entanglements in the Watergate scandal are a perfect illustration of the complications of sin at all levels—personal, inter-personal, and systemic.

Personal idolatries and ambition drive people to sin, which often draws others into participating in the destruction and self-destruction.  Others who find out about wrongdoing have their own motivations for responding rightly or wrongly, choosing either to participate in cover-up and denial or to exploit the situation to their advantage.  The multiplication of these motivations and decisions results in a bewildering web of deception and staggering personal, inter-personal, and institutional destruction.

Ford behaved admirably in the midst of so much of that mess, understanding and resisting the larger corrupting dynamics of power.

These dynamics of ambition, face-saving, deceit, blame-shifting, and self-protection are all on display in the emerging scandal at Penn State. 

Personal, inter-personal, and systemic dynamics of corruption are all involved.

It’s horrifying and tragic to learn of lives destroyed and damage done to young men that will have multiplying destructive effects down the road.

The brilliant horror of the cosmic power of Sin is that sin begets sin on a massive scale and pervades everything.  Sin invites and provokes sin.  Sin runs down social networks and multiplies exponentially, destroying lives, reputations, and institutions, without respect for reputation or past credentials of honor.

It seems that over the last decade and a half many of these same personal, inter-personal, and institutional motivations were in play to prevent the reporting of horrible wrong-doing.  The inevitable accounting for all of that won’t come close to setting things right.  And what’s worse, the accounting and reporting will involve the same corrupted personal, inter-personal, and instituional motivations.

It’s an unspeakable tragedy.

7 thoughts on “Displays of Sin’s Destructive Power

  1. S Wu

    What an analysis of the nature of sin, Tim! Thank you. Often Christians understand sin only in terms of personal holiness. Personal holiness is of course important. But sin manifests itself in many ways at many levels, resulting in a web of evils that destroy humanity and God’s good creation.

    My work in the overseas relief and development sector has led me to think about these issues. Financial giving alone does not deal with the systemic and structural evils that cause socioeconomic injustice. Likewise, the form of discipleship that focuses solely on personal holiness and piety cannot deal with the root causes of poverty either.

    We need a comprehensive understanding of sin.

    1. timgombis

      Exactly, S. Must keep the big picture and its constituent parts in view in order to rightly describe brokenness and deal with positive efforts to see God’s redemptive power at work.

  2. Jaime Hancock

    For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.

  3. Steve W

    Great discussion. As I talked with my wife, Andrea, about the situation at Penn State, we both realized that this must happen much more than we ever hear about publicly. I mentioned Pitino’s scandal at U of L and how these larger-than-life leaders have whole economies on their shoulders. So the “isolated dictator/power corrupts” dynamic is fed and protected. I hope that we can all take a lesson from Ford. Based on several of Ford’s comments, his commitment to his wife seems to me a big part of it…

    1. timgombis

      Exactly. There’s something seriously wrong when the football coach has more power than the president and trustees. It’s “natural” and “normal” in one sense, but completely unnatural and the abnormalities of those kinds of situations bear bad fruit.

      Ford’s comments upon assuming the presidency were striking and were even more so seeing the video.

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