General David Patraeus served as Director of the CIA and was a four-star General with more than 37 years in the US Army. His accomplishments are astounding in nature with a resume touting his service to our country ensuring our safety. He has handled confidential information with integrity, served leaders with honor and effectively led others with glowing remarks from those who worked with and for him. Yet today our country and others across the world will watch, as though they are reading a romance novel, his world unravel with scandal of an affair and the details that will soon be laid out for public display. A wonderful legacy that was so close to ending in a blaze of glory will unfortunately be remembered by many negatively in the form of lust and infidelity.
John D. Rockefeller built the company Standard Oil that was founded from discovering the good uses of kerosene. His skill for refining oil was the basis for providing thousands of jobs in America, fueled the engines of our railways and ships/boats, and brought heat to homes. His ingenuity led his company to develop more than 300 oil-based products such as tar, Vaseline and chewing gum. Rockefeller became the richest man to ever live, even by today’s standards. From his very first paycheck he gave at least a tenth of his income to his church and more to other causes in his community. He gave to education, public health causes, sciences and the arts. However, he is most remembered for his equally negative image due to his great wealth and harsh working conditions for workers that were thought to be whose backs he used to build his wealth upon. That became a large part of the beginning of Unions forming. He was a master at streamlining productions and therefore placed less emphasis on the relational side of business. His monopoly was broken late in life in a highly publicized court decision that determined he was in violation of the Sherman Antitrust Act. His company was broken up into smaller companies and thus his legacy was a mix of the good and bad with most choosing to remember the negative in the form of greed.
King David of the Bible is known by children to have slain Goliath. He led armies to defeat countries much larger in size than his own at the direction of God. His courage was inspirational to those around him. He was a dedicated friend (Jonathan). As an ancestor of Jesus, he was a musician and poet, writing much of the Psalms. His son is credited for the building of the Temple of God in Jerusalem. Of all the people in the Bible, David is said to be a “man after God’s own heart”. What a statement to have been given to someone. What most of us remember about David is his affair with Bathsheba. Like most others, we often remember the worst. But he also has another (actually many) egregious sin that I’d like to point out. It’s a sin of pride. David was winning battles left and right. He had skills that God had given him and was blessed by God like none other. But he began to look more to the gift than the Giver of the gifts. In an act of pride, he wondered in his heart just how big he had gotten. He asked for a census – a count of what he had accumulated. The Bible says in 1 Chronicles 21:1 that Satan incited David to make a census of the people. A deeper study of this shows that Satan didn’t simply trip David up by suggesting this idea but that David already had pride in his heart and Satan knew this weakness and used it to his advantage.
What these three men have in common are more than the obvious greatness in power and wealth. These are fascinating stories of ordinary men who rise yet fall in the face of common transgressions that befall any one of us. We all have lust, greed and pride. Though our lives succumb to the same temptations they do, we expect that those in leadership positions should be held to a higher standard, and rightfully so. But we are a culture of contradictions. Let me explain.
We hate sin, as we should, until it hits us at a personal level. For example, we have a dislike for gossip until we have been wronged and want to ‘process’ it with someone and therefore become the gossiper. We want our leaders to be above reproach and honorable in areas of integrity such as not stealing, embezzling, or being greedy. This is because these are external and very obvious ‘sins’ or offenses. But when it comes to more subjective ‘sins’ that we can more easily relate to on a personal level such as treating someone fairly or adultery, well then, we’re not sure that these are things we can or should hold a leader to the fire on. This is because we don’t know where to draw the line because we don’t have clear lines for ourselves. Treating someone fairly, for example, what does that mean? There are two sides to every story and our heart can be for one until we hear the other side. Or we can lean toward one person simply because we relate more from our own personal experience. Because there aren’t clear lines we have a difficult time expecting others to hold a standard – therefore we certainly can’t expect that of our leaders. But embezzlement? Of course we can. That one seems quite clear, right?
I had a marketing class in college during the Clinton affair scandal. The controversy became an easy assignment for us as students. We learned that billions are spent not only by companies but also by politicians to learn how we will respond to buy a product, or in this case, buy a story. Bill Clinton’s people held several focus groups to discuss the ‘situation’ in order to gage what words would draw sympathy from the crowd to know best how to address the American people during his televised speaches. What they learned is that the groups unanimously were sympathetic to the ‘privacy of the family’, his wife and daughter. And it worked, we bought it – hook, line and sinker! He used his charming speech to plead with the American people to please give his family the privacy they need to heal – and we did. The American people could understand the wounding of the family because it happens all around us. Rather than be angry with a man, a leader, a President who betrayed his family and/or country, they saw a family who was hurting and a husband who wanted to aid them. Had this been an act that was less emotionally connective to our hearts, such as embezzlement, the outcome would have been different.
Consider the current election process. Obama used the great wealth of Romney to put a wedge between the Governor and the people by portraying a man who was disconnected and didn’t care about those around him simply because of his wealth despite evidence to the contrary. He touted that Romney didn’t understand the working class but that he only cared about the rich. However, Obama’s campaign raised millions from Hollywood celebrities who are not working middle class and who are not struggling like the rest of us. But we bought it anyway. Like Rockefeller before him, Romney worked for his money but also did much good with it and has a legacy of many good acts that went under the rug simply because greed was not palatable to a country hurting financially. Had this same conversation taken place during the height of financial success, the outcome may have been very different as we would have loved a leader who would continue to take us further into our financial security. We’re such a fickle people.
The point of today’s blog is that somehow we find it justifiable and even comforting to pass judgment upon those who we expect to have committed some sin or offense that we find unforgivable or simply can’t comprehend how it could have happened. However, we must remember that their lives are so much larger than life than ours are. They are ‘on the big screen’ so to speak. You and I will most likely never bring our country greatness these people have – nor will we probably fall from such heights either. Yet, in our own small way, we will still fall with the same sin or offenses that they have. It will just be wrapped in a different package.
I’ve acted in pride. I’ve had to repent and have a healing time because of my pride. I’ve acted out of lust and have harmed others because of this sin. I’ve been greedy – quite often as a matter of fact. I hold onto things far more often and tighter than I’d like to admit. And there are more sins we could list. We’ve all committed them. So as we listen to the television this week and watch our leaders, our hero’s, our ‘idols’, or those we’ve placed on a pedestal fall – let’s remember that it could and probably is us as well.
Let me end with King David’s response when he was offering a sacrifice to God for the forgiveness of his sin. He was purchasing land from a man named Ornan to build an altar to God asking for forgiveness of his sin. Ornan offered to give him the land – wouldn’t you if the President of the United States came to you asking for your land to build an altar to the Living God for confession? But David said to Ornan, “No, I shall pay the full price; I am not going to present to the Lord what is yours. Or offer a whole offering which has cost me nothing.”
Our sin costs us. Are we willing to pay the price or do we want cheap grace to be forgiven? The good news is that Jesus Christ paid the greatest price possible to forgive us. It cost Him everything. But there is still a cost to us in laying down our pride, laying down our greed, facing those we’ve harmed, forgiving those who have harmed us, praying for those who continue to sin against us, standing up against that which is against God…will we end our legacy on a strong note or will we too be remembered for our fall?